Motti Wilhelm

Did your rabbi speak about AI?

Screenshot of the author asking AI for help writing a sermon. (courtesy)
Screenshot of the author asking AI for help writing a sermon. (courtesy)

Whether one’s rabbi discussed AI, made jokes about AI, or used AI to compose their sermon, the fact remains: AI will likely be the most disruptive force this year and for many years to come.

It has already caused disruptions in Hollywood, stirred panic on Wall Street, and reshaped the job market, all while Chat GPT hasn’t even celebrated its first birthday.

Most significantly, it is altering the way we perceive ourselves.

As we move toward a reality in which machines, without moods, bad days, or a need for coffee, will supersede our doctors, pilots, and engineers, we must be clear in our role as humans.

Judaism has never presumed that humanity produces the best poets or the most intelligent beings. We have long been in awe of the angels and have marveled at the mysteries of creation.

Perfection has not posed a threat to us, nor do we hide our shortcomings. We even have a day on our calendar called “the day of atonement.” Ours is the role of struggling to achieve, of making good choices while pulled toward bad ones.

“Why,” asked the Maggid of Mezritch, “would the Creator be impressed with humankind when there is such perfection among the angels? How can a soiled vessel hold meaning in the presence of pristine light?”

“It’s the novelty,” he explained, “like a parrot whose senseless words capture the king’s attention.” When we hear fellow humans speak, we are neither impressed nor amused, but when a parrot utters a few words, even the king is impressed.

The poetry of the angels and self-driving cars may be fascinating, but they do not impress the Creator. After all, it’s just a machine performing its function. The sun He created has been rising and setting for thousands of years.

But abstaining from coffee on Yom Kippur, that’s impressive. A self-reflective and self-aware being setting themselves aside for the Creator turns heads in heaven.

It is precisely our moods, fatigue, and bad habits that make us significant. It is by overcoming these challenges that we can shine.

We can pre-program lights to turn on Friday afternoon. While they can provide illumination, they cannot usher in Shabbat. Shabbat is ushered in by a woman who had to rush home before sunset. She may be emotionally drained from the week gone by, but by choosing light, she illuminates the world.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Reach me via email or WhatsApp 1-503-381-7119.

About the Author
Rabbi Motti Wilhelm received his diploma of Talmudic Studies from the Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand in 2003 and was ordained as a rabbi by the Rabbinical College of America and Israel’s former chief Rabbi Mordecha Eliyahu in 2004. He was the editor of Kovetz Ohelei Torah, a respected Journal of Talmudic essays. He lectures on Talmudic Law, Medical Ethics and a wide array of Jewish subjects and has led services in the United States, Canada, Africa and Australia. His video blog Rabbi Motti's Minute is highly popular as are his weekly emails. Rabbi Wilhelm and his wife Mimi lead Chabad SW Portland as Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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