Does Foursquare Remind You of a Sukkah or Matzah?

matzah sukkah

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By Yonatan Gordon

When we wrote “Foursquare: How to Repair a Fallen World,” the mayorships, badges and other gamification elements were still cool. But that apparently has now since changed. To quote from a recent article:

“Foursquare is much more than mayorships and badges,” [Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley] said onstage on Monday. “It’s a perception issue. We’ve definitely been phasing a lot of that stuff out.” 

“That’s not what Foursquare wants to be in the future. The app has pivoted into the location-and-discovery space, aiming to direct users to points of interest based on time of day, check-in history and past data. That’s also where Foursquare hopes to make its money going forward, offering strong tool sets to local businesses and large national companies willing to pay for better analytics services.”

As we hope to explain in this article, this shift from games to discovery centers around what may be the most famous debate in Jewish law: In what month does the year begin–Tishrei or Nissan? Whereas Tishrei marks the beginning of the creation of the physical universe, Nissan commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation.

We are now in the month of Nissan, so it makes sense that Foursquare should presently be talking about the importance of discovery. If there was ever a moment of leaving one’s confined neighborhood, and embarking toward unknown terrain, it was during the Exodus from Egypt. Whereas Foursquare’s gamification aspects remind us to make the world more fun and useful (hence the name of our first article, “how to repair a fallen world”), search and discovery tools focus on the potential of the individual.

Our question then is what the concept of a “foursquare” represents: a sukkah or a matzah? We discussed the “sukkah” elements in our previous Foursquare article. Now given this shift toward discovery, we can now talk about the importance of both times of the year.


We mentioned that the “sukkah” approach to life is one of unity. Ideally, we should be able to build a sukkah large enough to fit everyone inside. This is the initial motivation behind check-ins, and the other collaborative elements of the app. Through my seemingly singular experience of stepping into the local bakery, there is a great footprint being trod. The Foursquare debate depends on how you view these steps. If your view is that no matter whether you travel, every step is taken while safely ensconced inside a sukkah, then the game elements will be compelling for you. Each store you visit exists within a unique and futuristic state called the “sukkah.” Each new adventure you explore, is another level within the sukkah game universe.

Whereas, the matzah eater doesn’t think of it like this. His focus is on personal betterment; leaving the constraints of exile in Egypt and venturing forth toward a redemptive state at Mt. Sinai and in the Land of Israel. The results also have to be quick because, after all, there wasn’t even time for the dough to rise. Whereas a person can be engrossed in a game for days, moments of discovery are often spontaneous and unplanned.


We can now begin to appreciate the dispute a little more. The question is not where people use Foursquare, but with what context or space they envision to be around them. Are they travelling within the safe, surrounding space of a sukkah, or under the open skies into uncharted terrain? In Jewish thought, this concept is explained as the two approaches to the “ways of God.”

A way leads from one place to another. The goal is not the way itself, but the destination point. It is, however, impossible to reach one’s destination without the “way.” The ultimate purpose of creation is that the Jewish people should observe the mitzvot in this material world. Nevertheless, the sages say that “a mitzvah without [the proper] intent is like a body without a soul.”

One might protest: What’s wrong if one fulfills a mitzvah merely to satisfy one’s obligation? Although one’s deed is “like a body without a soul,” the “body” is still intact, and that seems to be the essence of the matter.

In reply, it must be explained that when a person observes mitzvot merely to fulfill his obligation, or out of habit, there will ultimately be a lack in his observance. Moreover, even when the actual observance of mitzvot is unaffected, performing them like “a body without a soul” does not truly fulfill God’s will that they be “living mitzvot.”


What then is more important, physically sitting in the sukkah or spiritually travelling toward it? We mentioned that the “sukkah experience” is a futuristic or Messianic era one, when everyone will sit together underneath one sukkah. This is the goal of our Foursquare wayfarer, to appreciate how the signposts (or stores) along the way are getting us closer to this unified vision. But the desire to just “sit” inside this futuristic sukkah, is like the person who wants to experience the “body” of the mitzvah, without the “soul.”

The “soul” is the drive to move forward with the proper intent toward achieving the goal. This is why even when we sit in sukkahs during Tishrei, we also need to keep the journey element in mind. While the wayfarer knows that he has not yet reached his destination, the test is greater for those presently sitting inside a sukkah. Will they view their sitting also as a journey along the way?  


In general, there are two types of “ways”: one of ascent and one of descent. This represents the difference between the Divine service of the month of Nissan and the Divine service of the month of Tishrei. Nissan expresses the drawing down of Godliness into our world, while Tishrei gives expression to man’s potential for ascent. Either we are focused on exploring more real-world elements or stores along the way (Nissan/matzah); or we turn our sights to loftier pursuits and gamification (Tishrei/sukkah).

The reason to favor Nissan is because a person may fall complacent while sitting inside the sukkah. A person could find themselves becoming content with the “body” of the mitzvah, without keeping in mind the importance of the “soul” of the mitzvah. But both are needed. While it is good that Foursquare is emphasizing search and discovery tools in the month of Nissan, as we approach Tishrei in a few months, it would be appropriate for the discussion to once again revert back to games.

As we explained, Tishrei is about making the world a more fun place to live in, whereby we can “rebuild the fallen sukkah of [King] David.”

Excerpted and Freely Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Volume VIII (pages 27-33)


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