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Have a Heart

Thursday, 6 August, 2020 - 1:18 pm

In 1991, the legendary Jewish musician Moshe Yess collaborated on an animated Jewish Sci-fi film called Roburg. The quality of the animation was so-so, but the plot was interesting. It was about a CIA project to create an AI bot that they named Roburg. Why? Because there was a malfunction in the processor that caused the communications to switch to Hebrew sometimes. So they gave the robot a “Jewish” name, Roburg. At some point in the story, Roburg escapes from the lab in Arizona and hitches a ride to Brooklyn, where he convinces a Rabbi to teach him Torah. Upon learning about Tzedakah, he has a strong urge to help a little girl get the money she needs to have a life saving operation. When his handlers catch up with him, he agrees to go back to the lab on the condition that they allow him to keep studying Torah, and that the US government will pay for the girl’s operation. In the end his Rabbi says to him, “Roburg not only have you studied Torah but you have also shown that you have a heart.”

In truth AI cannot have a heart. Even the most sophisticated and advanced developments of AI can mimic emotions and pick up on inflections, but it cannot truly have a heart. On a side note, this week a Facebook algorithm banned a Chabad Rabbi in Manhattan from the social media platform, accusing him of COVID-19 misinformation. His sin? He wrote the following, “The cure for COVID-19 is to be found in this week’s Torah portion.” The algorithm having no heart, could not pick up on the nuanced difference between that statement and real misinformation. (Alright, maybe the supervisor could have done a better job programming the system.)

“Having a heart” requires being a real person. In fact, the Torah tells us over and over again how important having a heart is. In last week’s Parsha as well as in this week’s Parsha, the phrase “know with your heart” is repeatedly used. It is not sufficient to have an intellectual awareness of G-d. It is not enough to know in your mind that you need to be concerned about the needs of others. We must know with our hearts. The emotions cause us to be invested in that of which we were intellectually aware. This balance of mind and heart is the ultimate perfection of human achievement. In our relationship with Hashem and our commitment to the Torah, the intellect gives us the capacity for sustainability and the emotion gives us the capacity for being invested and passionate.

The importance of having a heart balanced with having a mind, is a recurring theme in many ethical and philosophical disciplines of Torah. So, “have a heart” and enjoy your Yiddishkeit.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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