So you are walking around town, driving around town or perhaps even biking around town and going about your business, when all of the sudden you sense the existence of something invisible.  Maybe somebody next to you notices as well or maybe you’re the only one.  It doesn’t matter.  You stop where you are to make sure and to fully appreciate the presence.  You feel rewarded for pausing and acknowledging this unseen entity.

Of course, I am talking about Pokémon Go!

For those who have not witnessed or experienced this new game, it is a real world variation of the Pokémon video games that have been around for years.  Players use their phones or tablets to capture, train and battle virtual creatures called Pokémon.  However, the players cannot simply sit at home.  They have to actually go to locations where their phones pick up the signal that a Pokémon is “present” and eligible to be captured.  Parents around the country are reporting that they haven’t seen their children walk around their neighborhoods this much in years.

In an uncanny coincidence, this game has taken off just as Jews are turning their attention to the Torah portion of Balak in which we are introduced to a character named Bilaam.  Bilaam was what I like to call a free agent prophet.  He was able to communicate with God, but he was not the official prophet of any particular nation or people.  He was available for hire.  So, Balak – who was the king of Mo’av – tried to hire him to curse the Israelites who had just had a string of military victories and were headed Balak’s way.

As Bilaam was en route to Mo’av to meet with Balak, a crazy thing happened.  God sent an angel to block Bilaam’s way, but the angel was invisible to him.  Strangely, Bilaam’s donkey could see the angel even though Bilaam could not.  So, the donkey shied away from the angel.  In response, Bilaam started hitting the donkey.  So, God gave the donkey the power of speech (take that, Walt Disney!!).  The donkey complained about the beating she was taking.  Eventually, God allowed Bilaam to see the angel in the path as well.

Whether it’s Pokémon Go or this bizarre story in our Torah portion, we can all think of instances during which one person sees something that another does not.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of technology.  If you don’t have the right phone and the right software, you can’t “see” the virtual creatures.  However, often times, it has to do with our willingness to really look at the world around us.

For example, some people look at Union County, NJ, and see a prosperous suburb of New York City.  However, for the five families we are hosting in our social hall this week through Family Promise, it looks very different.

Many people think that they can find spirituality and community without having to step foot in synagogue.  Further, when they hear the word “conservative” attached to that congregation, it may as well be an invitation to stay away.  However, I would say to all of those people that there is something inside our walls that you can’t see and you can’t hold in your hands, but is very real.  You can call it God’s presence, you can call it community, you can call it Torah or you can call it Tradition.  Whatever you call it, it’s real and it’s here and it can make living in this crazy world just a little bit better.

So, I invite everyone to get up and find their way to the synagogue – for a Minyan, for a class, for Shabbat service, for Family Promise or for any other reason.  Maybe you will sense the existence of something invisible.  Maybe you will fully appreciate the presence.  Maybe you will feel rewarded for pausing and acknowledging this unseen entity.  I think I’ll call it Synagogue Go!



About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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