You have probably noticed the newest phenomena. The pedestrian holding the iphone who walked right in front of your car after your light already turned green. The group of excited smartphone carrying teens converging in front of an office building on a main street. And just maybe, the new trend has already sucked you in and you find yourself wandering the streets in search of hidden monsters. It is everywhere. It is the Pokemon Go obsession.
This game of “augmented reality” has such an exciting appeal because it brings the fictional world of gaming right into your world. Your surroundings are literally transformed into the game board and you are right there inside the action. Through the screen of the smartphone you are able to see things around you that the naked eye cannot see. A walk down the street becomes an adventure of battling bad guys, capturing monsters and climbing from level to level. Mundane daily life turns into an adventure.
And as I watch this phenomena unfold, I can’t help but see the strong comparison between the dual state of consciousness experienced by the wandering Pokemon Go player and the dual consciousness that every "wandering Jew" has had to carry with him throughout our history.
For over 2000 years, the Jewish people have lived in a state of “augmented reality”. To the untrained eye, we just seem to be wandering through history, randomly moving from stop to stop, hoping that we will be accepted, that we won’t be persecuted, and that we will be able to establish a thriving Jewish community there.
But just like the Pokemon player who knows that as he travels the world, his smart device will tell him of the hidden monsters that exist all around him for him to capture in order to advance to the next level, the wandering Jew with a well-developed awareness of our Jewish destiny knows that as he travels from place to place, each stop will contain its own hidden “monsters” in the form of the unique challenges we are meant to overcome and the potential that we are supposed to tap in to as part of our mission as the Jewish people.
One great scholar, Rabbi Gedaliah Shorr in his book Ohr Gedalyahu describes this principle in the following way:
It is known that the concept of exile is so that the Jewish people can elevate the sparks of holiness that they discover among the nations. When there was a Temple, all holiness would be drawn from around the world and concentrated in the Land of Israel. But when the Jewish people sinned and fell from that level, they needed to go through exile in order to bring back all of that holiness. As we see throughout our history in Exile, many countries give us permission to live amongst them for many years, and then suddenly turn against us into our enemies and evict us from their land. The reason is that after we complete our mission in that place, it becomes our mission to go elsewhere to complete our mission there.
The Jew in exile experiences a different reality than everyone else. As he wanders from place to place and remains true and connected despite the unique challenges that present themselves there, he is actually “capturing” the potential positive forces that exist in those places and returning them to their holy source, bringing us one step closer to Jerusalem.
As we approach the time period in the Jewish calendar known as the 3 weeks, from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av, our spiritual goal is to strengthen ourselves as we reflect on the past two millennium in Exile and all that we have been through. It is a time to remind ourselves that even though we have faced so many challenges and sometimes seem to be so far away from where we would like to be as a Jewish people, this whole experience is all part of God’s master plan to bring us back home as an even stronger people.
Both the Pokemon player as well as the Wandering Jew see a different reality; they are in tune to the challenge at hand that only they can see, and they don’t lose sight of the goal of winning the game.