In previous articles we discussed the manner in which many of us get distracted from our goal of achieving the ultimate in life and wind up putting our focus and energies into building that which is temporary and trivial. Such a distraction is referred to in Kabbalah as “klipah”, meaning shell, because a shell surrounds the purpose (i.e. the fruit), yet gets its vitality from the fruit. Similarly, in life, our interest in building that which is trivial ultimately has its root in our potential and inner yearning to build something of great worth and meaning. That is to say, our interest in building a stamp, comic book, car, or diamond collection, has its root in our potential and inner yearning to build something higher – namely, our relationship with the Infinite.
In fact, probably the most prevalent klipah we struggle with in the world today is what I like to call the Klipah of Greece. The philosophy, ideals, and culture of Greece were spread further by the Roman Empire, which (combined with Christianity) serves as the underpinnings of the Western society in which we presently find ourselves.
The Greek goal, definition, and vision of true beauty was pure externality and physicality. The human physique, sports, the Olympics – these were the pinnacle they thought to be worth “collecting.” If the Jewish motto is that there is nothing other than God, the Greek motto is that there is nothing other than the physical.
The word for Greece in Hebrew, Yavan, is spelled yud, vav, final–nun. If you take a look at this word in Hebrew (יון), you see that the word starts from the smallest letter, the yud, and seems to be getting stretched out and pulled downward.
Being that the letter yud is the smallest of all the letters and likened to a mere dot, it expresses spiritual existence – when written, it exists there on the page but is not drawn out to contain physical properties, as if to demonstrate existence beyond the physical. Thus, the letters of the Hebrew word Yavan hint to the “spiritual” yud being stretched out, and not only brought down into the physical, but dragged down and entrenched into the physical, as the end-nun can be seen to be implying. This is what Greece is all about – turning the spiritual into physical.
By contrast, Judaism is all about getting to the spiritual even in the physical and clarifying that the physical itself is actually spiritual at its root. So, if we refer to the Jewish people as a “light unto the nations” for their illumination of the spiritual reality inherent within this physical world, we can refer to Greece as a “darkness unto the nations” for their attempt to block out any semblance of the spiritual reality inherent within this physical world.
Before entering university, I spent a year at a yeshiva in Israel in which I investigated the underpinnings of Judaism and immersed myself in its teachings and values. Upon returning to the USA, a few Yankees tickets found their way to a friend of mine who offered me to come along, so I figured I’d take him up on it.
It was a close game.
With two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning and a couple of runners on base, one of the Yankees gets a hit and the ball rolls all the way back to the wall. One runner comes in to tie the game. The crowd is cheering. Another runner is rounding third. The crowd gets off its feet. Here comes the play at the plate… At that moment, I look around and I find myself just sitting there watching this whole scene, thinking to myself, “This has got to be the saddest excuse for something meaningful that has ever been invented.”
After all, what are they cheering about at the end of the day?
Think about it.
If you’ve ever listened to people talk about “their” team winning a championship, they typically exclaim: “We won!”
Really? You won? I haven’t seen your championship ring.
For a person to have an appreciation for the game and for the game to have entertainment value is one thing, but the passion and sense of personal and societal identity that many fans (short for “fanatics”) associate with “their” team is something quite different.
This sense of identity and meaningfulness extends to such a fanatical point that a few years ago a lifelong Steelers fan was brought in an urn to experience a game for the first time “in person” (if you can call it that). And, just in case you think that is one extreme, isolated incident, they have now come out with a line of colorful caskets and urns available for purchase for people looking to fulfill their mantra of dying for their team.
Said the spokeswoman for Major League Baseball, “Passionate fans express their love of their team in a number of different ways.”
The klipah of Greece and Greek-influenced cultures such as Rome, and by extension the entire Western world, is that they have taken the soul-power for growth and meaningful living and turned the goal and definition of true beauty into sports and Olympics – the physical and external.
In a society in which money defines success – such as the Western world, which declares that “It’s all about the Benjamins” – in order to see what they value, all you have to look at is what they spend their money on.
So what does this society spend its money on? And, by extension, who does our society glorify as the personification of its goals, ideals, and aspirations?
Is it the teachers of their children?
Is it the aid and relief workers?
Nope. Most of them are actually expected to volunteer for their positions.
Rather, it’s those people who are hitting the homeruns, putting the ball in the hoop, throwing touchdown passes. It’s those people who are in the movies and on TV. That’s who our society considers to be “really making it.” After all, what are you going to set as your Facebook profile picture – you with the aid worker who just got back from Africa, or you with Lady Gaga?
Just think about what posters were on the walls of your room when you were a kid, and you can see exactly what our society is teaching us to value, hold near-and-dear, and, ultimately, to emulate.
The Messianic Symphony
Another great example of the manner in which physicality and externality has been redefined by Westernism as the truest beauty and the ultimate goal can be seen in commercials for the National Football League. The background music will come on sounding like some combination of symphony and opera, giving the feeling of some sort of heavenly ascendance in which all parts of the orchestra fuse together for a higher, all-inclusive purpose. Then, a highlight of a quarterback throwing a spiral football floating in the air in slow motion, culminating in an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone.
Ah, a thing of beauty.
But do you notice how they’re essentially trying to make football into a God experience, into a Messianic experience? After all, according to Judaism, in Messianic times all aspects of this world of multiplicity will reveal the underlying unity of God that is at its core. And the NFL is tapping into that.
Similar is the experience of the concert when everyone pulls out their lighter (or cell phone) – each becoming individualistic parts of the greater collective unified whole.
This hijacking of the soul of humanity is what we call klipah.
Humanity has an inherent soul-desire and yearning for this Messianic age, this God-experience, and the aura of ascendance that comes with that; our Greek-Roman-Western society puts something objectively meaningless in its place. And the irony is that the whole reason for the interest and passion in the objectively meaningless collection, sports team, or rock concert experience is due to their being empowered by the soul’s desire and yearning for that which is higher. Thus, the objectively meaningless collection, sports team, and rock concert experience usurps the soul’s thirst for something objectively meaningful, thereby pulling it away from actually attaining its true goal of personal refinement and relationship with God.
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a cutting edge international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life, and the author of the #1 Amazon’s Best Seller, Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism.
Rabbi Eliyahu is scheduled to be in North America on November 5-22. To book a presentation, email firstname.lastname@example.org