The Kabbalah of Marketing: 101

Toolsie Roll Pop Owl

By Yonatan Gordon

Many of you have heard of trickle down economics, but today we’re going to talk about another trickle effect. Instead of fiscal policies, we’re going to be speaking about marketing from the top down. Just instead of the top being the wealthy, or owners of big businesses, our heights are set much higher to the realm of Atzilut.

Appropriate for a beginner lesson on Kabbalah marketing, we’re also going to speak about apples. Yes, the real ones … although in the end we’re going to mention the electronic variety as well.

So what does it take to effectively market an apple? Does eating one a day really keep the doctor away? Is this really the prized fruit that every teacher hopes to receive from their students? What about the implications of Isaac Newton legend. If one of these things falls on my head, will I discover something as profound as gravity?

But to complicate matters a bit more, even within apples there are a great many varieties. Those who prefer tart, will buy a bag of Granny Smith, whereas the extra sweet taste buds, will go straight for those Golden Delicious.

Entering the Orchard

Now as a marketer for a company selling these apples, it is your job to create compelling advertising messages for these products. But where do you begin? Perhaps it would be easier if all apples were red or sweet? But among the most popular varieties, are yellow, green, and tart cultivars. So what is an apple marketer to do?

The answer comes by first analyzing the concept of an apple. This is what we often call uncovering the “vision statement,” or appropriately enough, the “core concept” behind a product or brand. In order to do this, we need to approach a state before the trickle-down effect.

In Kabbalah, the technical term behind this approach to marketing is called hishtalshelut, or an evolutionary thought process. Hishtalshelut refers to the gradual unfolding of a complex and finite universe, from out of God’s absolute oneness. This “trickle down” approach views reality as something contingent on a sequential cause and effect (ila v’alul) relationship. Like the rings around the trunk of a tree, God is at the center of creation, no matter how many layers or rings are added on top.

The root of the Hebrew word “ring” (taba’at) is teva, which itself means “nature.” Nature and the evolutionary process are one and the same. Both suggest an underlying unity, which serves as the source of energy for a vast creative enterprise.

The Kabbalah of Tootsie Pops

Even before we return back to our apple discussion, we can see that the concept of histalshelut itself is a very marketable one. We can now make mention to one of the world’s most profound quandaries: How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

While researching this article, we decided to scour the internet for the answer. We all know that the owl gave up after three bites, then bit his way to the center. But perhaps, just perhaps, there is a more profound message behind this marketing campaign?

Amazingly, we found this answer on! (You can see it yourself here):

“This is one of the more profound questions ever posed to humankind and animal alike. To test this hypothesis correctly, you must stop counting the moment that the ‘center’ (the tootsie roll blob at the core of the pop) becomes exposed. That should be considered ‘reaching the center’.”

Now, this writer probably wasn’t consciously thinking about the Kabbalah of the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) when he wrote this. He probably wasn’t thinking about hishtalshelut and the implications therein. Presumbly, the author was just trying to find attractive way to explain the deeper concepts at play. What does it really mean to “get to the center”?

Getting to the Center

If the owl had said “look how tasty these things are,” then proceeded to bite the treat after only a few bites, this would be missing the point. The intention is not to presume that Tootsie Roll Industries, or their millions of consumers, are deeply versed in the Kabbalah of the Ramak and the concept of hishtalshelut. Instead, the lesson here is that these cosmic patterns are hard-coded into creation. These Kabbalistic systems is the system by which God programs and creates reality.

What was true for tootsie rolls, is also true for apples, and any other product on the market (natural or otherwise). The first step to marketing apples then, is to appreciate a reality beyond the seeds.

Sealing the Verdict

The truth is that apples exist on many planes. Although in this world, we see physical apples growing before us, there are higher spiritual “apples” in loftier realms. All characteristics of our apples then, are determined by the spiritual mazal (conduit or flow) of the apple on more sublime planes. Whether a particular type is sweet or sour depends on whether it derives its source more from the Divine attribute of chesed (loving-kindness) or gevurah (might). Although these attributes are wholly spiritual, through the process of hishtalshelut, this level-by-level descent leads to a material end result. This is how we get apples that have sweet or sour tastes, or colors that are red, yellow, green, etc…

While in truth, physical sweetness and chesed are incomparably distant and unrelated, they do have some qualities in common. Spiritually speaking, there are indeed many things that are considered sweet. Pleasure in intellect is a form of sweetness, as is the pleasure of music, which is on a lower plane than intellect. Hence in the course of numerous descents, actual physical sweetness comes into being.

Without this appreciation, companies may think that they need to create the perfectly sweet or sour product. Such motivations led to the development of food sweeteners such as aspartame, and the ever-popular MSG. But the lesson here is that even if the apple is organic, non-GMO and so forth, there are natural means by which marketers can attract more consumers to their line of apples.

Before embarking on a branding or marketing campaign then, there are two things a marketer should keep in mind. The first is to realize that the physical attributes of products, have spiritual roots to them. The second is to see what people are saying about the product. Listen to feedback, read the comments, and see how popular culture relates to your product. As we explained above regarding the Tootsie Roll, by thinking more deeply into the “lick to the center” campaign, we were able to focus ourselves both to the spiritual source, and the physical success, of the concept being presented.

We can now explain some common aphorisms about apples in light of this discussion.

An Apple a Day

Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? While there’s certainly nothing wrong with eating an apple a day, the concept seems to relate more to the chesed attribute behind apples. God created the world with a greater degree of loving-kindness. So too, we should view each day as one filled with opportunity and benevolence. A fun marketing campaign would then be to discuss whether a tart “Granny Smith” apple a day still keeps the doctor away?

Give the Teacher an Apple

What makes an apple the prized gift a student can give to a teacher?

According to Wiki Answers, “Teachers were poorly paid so families would help support teachers by giving them apples which was a fairly common crop. As time progressed and teachers earned more baskets of apples were narrowed down to just one apple.”

What is the deeper significance behind whether we view the teacher as poor or rich? The Jewish sense of wealth begins when teachers begin feeling like their students are grasping their lessons. Although there are different levels among students, perhaps the highest is when the students consider themselves as spiritual children of their teachers.

To ask a pointed question then, is indeed like giving the teacher a fruit. Both show that the student appreciates the lessons that the teacher has been giving. The symbolic nature of the fruit shows that the thoughts of the teacher have “born fruit” in the mind and hearts of his students. In some students, this culminates in the students themselves becoming the spiritual “offspring” or “fruit” of their teachers.

Schools and other educational organizations making use of this apple symbolism, should also convey that the students in the class not only appreciate their teachers, but are also grasping what is being said as well.

Gravitational Apples

Of all the popular aphorisms and stories about apples, the legend Sir Isaac Newton (whether it is true of not), seems to flow the most naturally from our discussion. We began the article by introducing the concept of “trickle down” apples, and now we are speaking about gravity. What is the significance behind these two concepts?

Like a stone falling to Earth, the benefits of “trickle down” fiscal policies are viewed in terms of acceleration. If the government were to give tax breaks to the rich, how fast (if at all) would the effects of these breaks be seen over the economy as a whole?

Where in science are acceleration and gravity equated to each other? Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is based on something called the “equivalence principle,” which says that the experience of acceleration and gravity are equivalent. In Chassidic writing, it is explained that attraction (מְשִׁיכָה, the force of gravity) affects the Divine soul alone, while running (acceleration) is felt by both the Divine and animal souls together. While the experience of acceleration is shared by both souls, the initial “gravitational pull” is an arousal that God uses to arouse the Divine soul alone.

This then explains why Newton discovered gravity, instead of a deeper understanding of acceleration and velocity. While it is true that if the apple had fallen from a greater height, it would have appeared as more “stone-like” in weight, true eureka moments come when they are Divinely inspired. For this, a person needs to connect with those things that exclusively relate to their Divine soul.

Hence when something falls from above, we are more prone to think about gravity than we are acceleration.

Apple Computer

It is interesting to note, that the first Apple Computer logo was indeed of Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree. Why then did they switch to the bitten apple logo that we are all well familiar with today?

In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had the task of convincing the public that computers were something personal. They had to show that these things were interesting and compelling enough to warrant being taken beyond the halls of the leading corporations of the time. So the first thought that came to mind (whether consciously or not), was to relate back on Einstein’s General Theory of Relatively. As with a star that literally curves spacetime around it, Apple wanted to show that this was also a “gravitational” product.

The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that is opens them up to potential criticism. Instead of showing that these computers are compelling and engaging, the public may eventually have viewed it as another glorified time waster. While the device may be gravitational, this doesn’t infer any intrinsic value to the time spent on the device.

This is the deeper reason for why the bitten apple took off. While according to Jewish tradition, the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge was likely not an apple, still the depiction of a bitten apple in Apple’s logo seems more a throwback to Adam and Eve than to Newton. Technology, when properly harnessed, does indeed have the ability to return us to a more idyllic state.

Apple, Apple, Apple, Computer???

We preceded the discussion of Apple Computer by three aphorisms or stories that relate directly back to real apples. But as we are advising a marketer of apples, we wanted to know if a “computer” campaign using real apples was possible.

We searched the internet, and thankfully, the U.S. Apple Association website was able to help us out on this one:

“Apple Polisher: The custom of “apple polishing” hails from the little red schoolhouses of yore. Young children whose math skills were less than exemplary sought to win their teacher´s favorite instead with a gift of a bright, shiny apple.”

What’s most amazing about this aphorism, is that the apple in the original “Newton” Apple Computer logo is indeed polished and shining! The fact that these devices are called computers, reminds us that first and foremost, these are computational devices (also in Hebrew, the root of מַחשֵׁב relates to mathematics).

From here we can also say, that perhaps the first teacher that a student should give an apple to is their math teacher (even if they are good at math).

The reason behind why these apples are shining in the aphorism and original logo, relates to the mystical orchard that the four sages of the Talmud entered. While this topic could be an article by itself, we attribute Rabbi Akiva’s ability to come out of this mystical trip unharmed, to the fact that he was well-grounded in reality, as a result of his serious commitment to the entire Torah.

Indeed, the name “apple” was selected after Steve Jobs spent an enjoyable summer picking apples in an orchard. The fact that Apple (and other) computers are so widespread, in some ways, relates directly back to a general desire to become familiar with the inner dimension of the Torah.

Every Computer Needs a Box

A person could ask why do we need to know Kabbalah to be an effective marketer? To be sure, there are many successful marketers who presumably are not familiar with Kabbalah, yet do rather well for themselves.

The answer relates back to the lesson we just learned from Rabbi Akiva. In order to appreciate something that is light-filled and attractive (i.e. marketable), one needs to be able to come out of the orchard unscathed. In order to think outside the box, there needs to at least be a box to think out of. This explains why people say that the most creative people, are those that acknowledge limitations.

Learning Kabbalah and Chassidut, without adherence to the laws and commandments of the Torah, is like trying to appreciate the soul without the body. The body, or revealed dimension of the Torah, is our “box” that keeps our mystical pursuits in check.

While the most successful marketers learn how to convey concepts clearly (like with the effective Tootsie Roll slogan), without putting the message into the proper context, it is destined to fade over time.

Raising Up a Disciple

Arguably the most listened to marketer today is Seth Godin, so it bears bringing something from him to show better what we mean. In a recent blog post, he wrote the following:

“The best approach is to not try to write things that will go viral.

No, the best approach is to write for just one person. Make an impact on just one person. Even better, make it so they can’t sleep that night unless they choose to make a difference for just one other person by sharing your message with them.

The rest will take care of itself.”

We mentioned above, in our “Give the Teacher an Apple” section, that the highest level of student is when they consider themselves as spiritual children of their teachers. There are several important distinctions related to this topic.

The first is that the disciple can take the lesson even further than the teacher can on his own. If after the class, the students transcribe and publish it, or find write a derivative work based on it, then the lesson can go “viral” as Godin mentions.

While the Arizal didn’t write any books, the most valued of his teachings are called Kitvei Arizal (lit. “The Writings of the Arizal”), faithfully recorded by his foremost student and disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital.

The distinction here is not that the Arizal was only speaking to one student. Instead, the reason why Kitvei Arizal is the most respected work until today, is because in some ways, Chaim Vital connected most to the inner essence of his teacher’s lessons. While there are other jottings published by other students of the Arizal, the one that is seen as being effectively authored by the Arizal himself, are those notes published by Chaim Vital.

Even if a teacher of Kabbalah today was delivering a class to dozens of students, what matters most are the contributions from those students that most get the essence of the teachings. While all PR for the class is well-received, these other efforts do not reach the level of being authored by the teacher himself (for more on this topic, read here).

Without this explanation to Godin’s post, we may think that teachers should just have one student in mind. But this is not the point. While a teacher aims to include all his students in the discussion, it is up to the students themselves to connect to the teacher and the essence of what he is trying to say.

Freely Adapted from Overcoming Folly (pp 294-295) published by Kehot Publication Society and other sources.


Original  “Newton” Apple Logo


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