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Rabbi Shais Taub

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Angry Birds: Spiritual Life Lessons

Posted: 11/04/11 11:01 AM ET

If you haven't heard of Angry Birds, then to tell you what it is by saying that it is the most successful mobile web app ever doesn't really give you an idea of how huge it is. I mean, how long have apps even existed? No, to give it the correct historical proportion, I should better tell you that Angry Birds is to my kids what the hula hoop was to my parents and what Cabbage Patch Kids were to my generation.

I must confess that after hearing all the buzz, I tried Angry Birds and after several hours of diligent research late into the night, I came up with some pertinent thoughts on the game. In the spirit of finding life lessons all around us, I compiled this list of concepts to ponder:

• The pigs are the bad guys.

Ask anyone to name an unkosher animal and nine times out of 10 they'll say a pig. Why don't they ever say an armadillo or a platypus? I mean, those things are as treif as it gets, yet swine have always been the quintessential impure creatures. But the reason why the pig is particularly reviled is because it symbolizes false piety. There are two signs of a kosher animal: a) it chews its cud and b) it has cloven hooves. The pig is the only animal that has the outer sign of being kosher (cloven hooves) but does not possess the inner sign of being kosher (chewing its cud). In other words, outwardly, the pig would appear to be kosher, it's only when you look at what's going on inside that you discover that it's not. And this is why the pig, or what it symbolizes, is so loathesome. The greatest enemy of spiritual growth is not obvious dysfunction but rather dysfunction that outwardly appears to be just fine.

• The pigs snatch the birds' eggs away from them.

There is actually a Biblical commandment (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) that if you take eggs from a bird's nest, you have to shoo away the mother bird first. One explanation for this is that it trains us to be as compassionate as possible. We are allowed to take eggs for food. But even when doing so, we don't have to force the mother bird to witness something that causes it to instinctively feel pain. One extreme says not to take the eggs at all. The other extreme says take the eggs however you darn well please. The middle path says that you may take the eggs if you need to, but do so mindfully and with respect for the web of life.

• If they're birds, why don't they just fly?

The bombshell question you gotta ask after playing this game is that if the birds are birds then why do they have to shoot themselves out of a slingshot and not just fly? We've got to assume that either their wings aren't working or they're not working well enough to do their job. In the kabbalastic book, the Zohar, the two opposite but complementary emotions of love and awe are compared to two wings that cause our good deeds to soar. Thus it says, "A good deed done without love and awe is like a bird without wings." While this might lead you to believe that if you can't get emotionally enthused for a good deed then there is no point in doing it, the truth is that it's not so, for "a bird without wings is still a bird" meaning even if you can't get inspired to do good, just do good anyways. Force yourself... even if you have to (figuratively) shoot yourself out of a slingshot to do so.

• They're angry.

The Talmud says, "Forever let your inclination for good rage against your inclination for bad." If the pigs represent false piety (see above) and the birds represent getting good deeds done (see above) then, yeah, let those birds be angry!

• The pigs' forts are just begging to be knocked down.

The pigs' forts are so elaborate and at the same time just so ridiculously precarious. They go to all this trouble erecting these complex structures, but with the well-placed pressure of a couple of flying birds they are easily toppled. I mean, if an architect designed any one of these buildings they would be totally sued for negligence. It's like the pigs subconsciously want their fort to be knocked down. In a similar way, our own "little green pigs" (read: the negative forces we encounter in life) may very well create formidable-looking obstacles, but in truth they actually want us to overcome them. Judaism teaches that the evil inclination placed within us wants us to resist it. It has to do its job by creating an opposition to our good deeds, but at bottom, its own modus operandi is to be defeated.

• More about that slingshot.

The farther you want the bird to go, the farther back you pull the slingshot. This is one of those spiritual truisms in life. The greatest ascents are preceded by the greatest descents. A setback in life is only a setback when you look at one frozen moment in time. Let things play out and see yourself catapulted to new heights.

• The different kinds of birds.

There are several different kinds of birds. The blue bird is small and light. His greatest power is when he splits apart into three. The ego always tries to tell us that bigger is better but sometimes when you're small, the solution is to get even smaller. Humility can pack a punch that brute force cannot.

The yellow bird speeds up and slices through objects with his triangular body. Interestingly, although he makes mince meat out of wooden boards, he is very ineffective against ice even though ice is weaker than wood. Of all the emotional obstacles in our spiritual path, the toughest to deal with is "ice." Coldness and apathy are even more difficult to break through than outright hostility.

The white bird's body has very little impact but the exploding eggs that it drops are quite effective. In some areas of life, it is more productive not to put ourselves into the task but rather to just employ the tools at our disposal. For instance, I don't have to immerse my deepest inner self into balancing my finances. It's okay to just use Quickbooks and save the real me for more important things like becoming a better person.

On the other hand... the black bird is the exact opposite of the white bird. It explodes like a bomb. To do its task, it gives away its entire self. This is like the areas of life where we have to put our entire being into the job and nothing short of that will do. So while I can buy a computer program to balance my finances I can't buy a computer program to raise my kids for me. I've got to do it myself and put my entire being into it.

Anyway, that's what I came up with. Oh, and I want to thank my brother Dovid Taub for helping my figure all of this out.

 
 
 

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