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Daniel D. Stuhlman

Kedoshim — Holiness and the “Golden Rule”

Shabbat Shalom

Parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim  April 29, 2023

After reading the articles concerning artificial intelligence in the latest issue of Jewish Action magazine I decided to give ChatGPT a try.  Could ChatGPT write a believable davar Torah in the style that I usually write?  It produced a coherent davar Torah based on the pasuk Lev. 19:18

לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְקוָֽק

Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your [fellow Israelite] as yourself for I am the LORD.

This is not a sentence that I would choose to talk about since “Love your neighbor as yourself” has been taught as the “Golden Rule.”  ChatGPT’s text even uses the phrase “Golden Rule” many times in their davar Torah. ”Golden Rule” has a Christian connotation.  Philosopher John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty (1869), writes that the “Golden Rule is taken from the Christian Bible” Sermon on the Mount.  He had no idea that the source for the text is found in Vayikra.  The concept even has roots outside of the Torah.  In Akkadian Proverbs (translated in Ancient Near East Texts edited by James B. Pritchard) on page 426 right column we read “unto your opponent do no evil; you evil doer recompense with good; unto your enemy let justice be done.”  This Akkadian proverb is closer to the paraphrase in the Talmud, “what is hateful to you, do not do it to your fellow” given by Hillel in the Talmud than to Mill’s Christian interpretation.

When I tried to reproduce the ChatGPT dialog with some new parameters, it refused to let me try today. While AI may give some interesting answers, it can’t compete with the nuances of context contained in a human brain. AI can only digest what the programmers want the system to know.  AI cannot become holy.

The message from the parsha that I think is even more central to Judaism is “קודשים תהיו You shall be holy for the LORD God is holy.”  All of our commandments are aimed at the goal of becoming a holy person and a holy nation.  We approach holiness as a way to approach the holiness of the Divine.  We strive to imitate God as a way to rise above the animal instincts.  We respect our history and learn about our world so that we can rise about the DNA dominated rules of the natural world and animal and plant kingdoms.  Consideration of the needs of the community is part of the holiness that we strive for.  The holiness of the Shabbat and holidays show we can sanctify time and put order into our personal and communal life.  Elevating ourselves from the pagan world of idolatry, magic, divination, etc. is part of the holiness we strive to achieve.

The business lesson is that in all of our relationships with our employees, vendors and customers we need to see the Divine spark.  A holy person treats everyone with respect even if the other person has not yet found the Divine spark.  We have to rise higher than the “Golden Rule.”  Sometimes to be holy we have to treat people on a different level than we treat ourselves.  Remember the story in the Talmud about two wanderers in the desert who have only enough water for one of them to survive.  We cannot always treat others as we want to be treated.  We have to strive for holiness, not equality.

 

 

About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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