ROBOTIC TALK | Harav Y. Reuven Rubin

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By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin

In the teeming industrial town of Halifax (For those not familiar with British topography, this is situated someplace near “eck Velt”) there is a unique exhibition named Eureka. How, you may ask, do I know this? Because, being the kvelling recipient of nachas from a number of lovely grandchildren, I am privy to inside information as to where desperate parents take their offspring during the vacations. Eureka is a sort of science museum for kids, kosher yet far enough away from any heimishe home to warrant a whole day’s outing.

One of the main features of this attraction is a talking robot. Not just any run-of-the-mill talking robot, this one “interacts” with humans. He (I think it is a he) asks questions and replies to yours, a regular shmnoozer. Anyway, there is always a long queue to get to talk to this electronic marvel, and my granddaughter couldn’t be denied her chance to chap a shmooz while family Rubin was visiting this museum. So there she was, this tiny little Chassidishe meidele, with her not-that-tiny Tatty slowly winding her way to the head of the queue.

“Hello,” croaked the robot in that very metallic voice all robots have. “What’s your name?” This was the robot’s opening gambit to each and every person who stepped up to him. Usually the answer would be “John” or “Mary,” at which point the machine would answer, “My name is Henry. Where do you live?” And so the conversation would proceed peacefully and predictably.

But this time, Henry the Robot met his match. “Hello. What’s your name?”

“Nechuma Gitel,” chirped my einikel.

Lights flashed, and Henry the Robot went into a spasm of anguished perplexity. “Nechuma Gitel. That’s not in my program. What kind of name is that?” squawked the fellow in his monotone. “I speak four languages, but I’ve never heard of a Nechuma Gitel,” he added in challenge.

It was time for the heavy hitters. My son stepped up to Henry and said to him, “Nechuma Gitel is a Yiddish name, and we speak Yiddish.”

By this time, smoke could be seen wafting up from the robot’s head. “Yiddish, teach me Yiddish.”

With that, my son explained some simple Yiddish expressions, which Henry the Robot caught on to quite quickly. In fact, you could almost imagine our mechanical friend swaying slightly with each new inflection. By this time, the line was about as long as the entire building, so with a new sense of awareness the robot wished his friends Nechuma Gitel and her Tatty shalom.

The next person to step into the robot’s sight was a decidedly non-Chassidic fellow. He sported tattoos up and down both arms and across his neck, a neck made more pronounced as his entire head was shaven. Up he stepped, and Henry blinked at him and asked loudly, ‘Shalom. Die redst Yiddish?”

I am afraid all this Yiddishkeit short-circuited Henry’s computer and, for all I know, he is now racing around in circles asking all and sundry where he can chap a minyan!

In today’s world, machines can do almost anything. Vast amounts of information can be stored on a little chip of silicone and is ours for the asking. The only thing the machines lack is a soul, and that spark is, of course, the essence of real life.

Too often, people come to me asking for instant spirituality, as if there’s some sort of microchip for realising one’s spiritual potential. It’s reflective of a general lack of patience in our times. This holds true not only for those who are not particularly imbued with a Torah lifestyle but for us as well. How often do we see daveners on “automatic pilot” or mitzvos being done without any thought or feeling? We just may be acting like that robot in Halifax, pre-programmed but without any heart.

In Bereishis we encounter the creation of the world. The highest form of that Creation is the human being “created in His Image.” Rav Ezriel Tauber explains what this concept means with great clarity in his As in heaven, So on Earth. One point he highlights is that “the nature of good is to bestow good.” Hashem, being the essence of goodness and wanting to bestow that goodness on a recipient, created us. It is our task to receive and accept Hashem’s goodness. If Hashem is good and the nature of good is to bestow good, it is only natural to realize that the nature of the Divine Image in the human being is to bestow good. “Giving,” writes Reb Ezriel “is in reality a reflection of our innate divinity.”

I would venture to take this point a bit further. One could say that doing good, giving to others, calls forth our very heart. Living life like a robot, mouthing the Torah outlook instead of feeling it, defeats the purpose of our existence.

Once upon a time (before robots and such), Torah life was built upon the foundations of goodness and giving. This added up to a sense of responsibility for each other.

Our generation is fully enveloped in technology, some homes even have silent electronic listening devises that await ones every wish and whim. Just tell it what you want and lo and behold, it is delivered the very next morning. With all these new advances comes a greater responsibly to parents and teachers to teach what real time goodness is in a world filled with hand held servants. Our young must be flooded with true life experiences of giving and caring for others, otherwise they will lose out on what they have been created for, to act in the image of our Creator.