Jonathan Levy
​you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)

Poke what? Lessons we can learn from Pokémon GO

If you have been following the news, using social media or even walking in a park in the past month you would have found it difficult not to notice the latest craze taking the world by storm – Pokémon GO! You may also have read some of the strangest headlines:

Man jumps into traffic playing smartphone game

Teenager shot dead while searching for creatures in Pokémon Go

Cleric flags fatwa against Pokémon

US holocaust museum asks players to stay away

Pokémon Go player finds a dead body

Man walks equivalent to 23 marathons searching for Pokémon

For those readers who may have watched (animated films and series) or played Pokémon games (on various Nintendo game consoles) in their youth, the chance to embark on an adventure to search and catch one of the 700+ Pokémon creatures is a dream come true. Utilising features on your mobile phone such as the camera, GPS and maps the creators have managed to overlay the Pokémon concept onto the real world to create a real world Pokémon adventure. In terms of computer gaming, this is every parent’s dream, the first game that involves getting off the sofa and getting kids active outside. In terms of technology, this is the first time augmented reality has been successfully deployed in the real world and gives us a taste of what augmented reality can bring to the world of technology (link), education (link) and gaming.

Is there a Jewish message in all this?

Some Pokemon creatures apparently have a Biblical source such as Groudon and Kyogre based on the Leviathan and the Behemoth in the book of Iyov – Job

And this Pokemon, Golurk, has a Kabbalistic source based on the famous Golem of Prague the mystical clay creature created with the name of God to defend the Jews of the city. I would like to suggest another connection.

In Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s book ‘Inner Space – Introduction to Kabbalah, Meditation and Prophecy’ he explains two fundamental Kabbalistic concepts known as ‘Shevirat haKeilim – the shattering of the vessels’ and ‘Nitzotzot Kedusha – sparks of holiness’. To simplify some very complex Kabbalistic topics here is a very brief crash course in Kabbalah.

According to the Kabbalah the building blocks God used in creating the universe(s) were the Ten Sefirot (often graphically depicted as inter-connected circles). These Sefirot form the inner structure and makeup of the universe, and they are the bridge between the Infinite Light of God and His finite creation. The Sefirot act as filters, garments or vessels for the light of the Ein Sof – The Infinite, that fills them. Essentially allowing the light of the Ein Sof to shine to ‘make space’ for finite creation. Although we refer to them as Ten Sefirot, at the highest spiritual level they are actually a complete unity as they represent Infinity in all its shining glory, however as they filter this light down towards creation, they go through a process of shattering and diffuse into ten distinct concepts. This is because the light that the vessels were holding was too much to contain. The Midrash states that, “God created universes and destroyed them”, other than the intriguing idea that this universe is not the only one that existed which is not the subject of this short article, according to the kabbalists this statement alludes to the concept just explained of ‘Shevirat haKeilim – the shattering of the vessels’. The now shattered vessels still retain a small amount of holiness. Nitzozot – sparks of the original light accompanied the vessels as they descended, these are the sparks of holiness in all things that must be elevated and brought back to the realm of the holy. There is something mysterious and magical when thinking about this process of creation and the existence of these sparks all around us. Our job, as taught in the Kabbalah and reinforced through Chasidut is to search for these Nitzotzot all around us, to become partners in creation in fixing these broken vessels.

In Aleinu we read “And you shall know today, and take to heart, that Hashem is the only God, in the heavens above and on Earth below. There is no other.” The hardest journey and perhaps the longest one, is the one from our minds to our hearts, from what we know to be true to making that truth something we act on. We need to take the spiritual message of Pokémon to heart that indeed right before our eyes is a spiritual universe overlaid on the physical one. On every street corner, at work, in the home, all around us are opportunities to capture the sparks of kedusha – Nitzotzot, to fix the vessels. What an awesome task, what an incredible responsibility. Let’s wake up in the morning with renewed enthusiasm and full of desire to ‘catch ‘em all’. Most importantly let that excitement rub off on our children and our peers around us so that the next big headlines are about incredible mitzvot we caught today and the light of Ein Sof filling the world with light to dispel the darkness all around us.

About the Author
Jonathan has been involved in informal youth and adult education for over a decade and in 2017 moved to Israel with his family from London. In his spare time he is an accountant.
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