Still, I wondered, should I feel threatened? Should all rabbis? Shold congregations? After all, virtual rabbis might be a lot cheaper than real ones, and they can even play guitar. Still, it is common knowledge that robots make bad fundraisers.
Not satisfied with this first attempt at a frog sermon on Vaera, and trying to gently nurture my new student, I asked Rabbi Hal A.I to amplify on the symbolism of frogs. A few years ago I prepared an entire parsha packet on frogs, so I might be considered a rib-bit of an expert. You can click on it to judge for yourself: How could Hal would match up to that!
"It's not easy being a machine," Hal ribbited back.And then Hal churned out this:
In a Jewish sermon on Vaera and the symbolism of frogs, one could explore the meaning and significance of the plague of frogs in the context of Jewish thought and tradition.
One interpretation could be that the frogs symbolize the impurities and sins that are present in the world, and the plague of frogs could be seen as a reminder of the need to constantly work towards purifying ourselves and our surroundings. The frogs are seen as a reminder of the constant battle between good and evil, light and darkness.
Another interpretation could be that the frogs represent the Egyptians' idol worship, as the frogs were associated with the goddess Hekt, and the plague of frogs could be seen as a demonstration of God's power over the false gods of Egypt.
Additionally, the plague could also be seen as a symbol of God's mercy. The frogs were only sent to the Egyptians, not to the Israelites, demonstrating that God was punishing the oppressors and not the oppressed.
Overall, the plague of frogs in the portion of Vaera can serve as a reminder of the need for personal and societal transformation, the power of God and his mercy, and the constant battle between good and evil.
Not bad, actually, but what of the resistance to change? What about that old frog-in-boiling-water metaphor, which I reference in my parsha packet. i consider that an unforced error. Me -1, Hal - 0.
So then I asked Hal to sermonize about Vaera in light of the new Israeli government.
This would get him in hot water for sure (to keep with the frog metaphor). He would be summoned before the board before he could even unpack his Spacely Sprocket gift bag. Mr.Space Odyssey would be past tense - like his movie with the futuristic title whose time actually past 20 years ago. Here's what Hal spat out as result of my hazing.
The Torah portion of Vaera, which tells the story of the God's revelation to Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, teaches us important lessons about the power of faith and the importance of standing up for what is right. In these troubled times, as we see a new government being formed in Israel, it is important for us to remember these lessons and to hold fast to our beliefs.
As we read in the story of Vaera, Moses was called upon by God to stand up against the oppression of the Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of slavery. Despite the challenges and obstacles that he faced, Moses remained steadfast in his faith and his belief in the power of God to guide and protect him.
In the same way, as we witness the formation of a new government in Israel, we must remember that it is not enough to simply hope for change. We must actively work for change, using our voices and our actions to speak out against injustice and to stand up for what is right.
As we read in the Torah, "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12), God is with us always, guiding and protecting us as we work for a better future. May we all be inspired by the story of Vaera and the courage of Moses, to stand up for what we believe in and to work for a just and peaceful society.
May God bless the new government of Israel and guide them in the path of righteousness, May God guide the leaders of Israel to make the right decisions, protect the citizens and bring peace to the land. May we all work together to bring about a better future for all people in Israel, and may we find strength and guidance in the Torah and our faith in God. Amen
Interesting. Hal may appear tone deaf to the details of the current crisis in Israel, but he is spot-on in finding a way to say something that will appeal on some level to every listener. He found the most moving and profound way to say absolutely nothing. Perfectly rabbinic! This experiment just might work out. He might become a real rabbi after all.
On Friday night I'll share some other insights gained from my new protege (or competitor, depending how you look at it). Hal will deliver a couple of sermonettes and I'll critique them on the spot.
For Shabbat morning, you'll have the chance to try it yourself. Go to the website, https://chat.openai.com/ (it may take you a while to get in), and plug in the instructions "Jewish sermon on Vaera" and then add your own theme, like "love," "hatred," "weather" - try anything you want. The bot will tell you if it doesn't work. More often than not, it will make it work. Then, print out your sermon and bring it on Shabbat (those on Zoom can do this as well) and we'll create the first ever A.I Yeshiva.
Now, everyone can be a rabbi! Virtually.
I'm not the first rabbi to employ AI for a weekly sermon. See how this one fared in the Hamptons. He later said of the experience, “I really do think that were someone to get their Jewish content exclusively through ChatGPT, there would be an X-factor lacking. The human soul, the spirituality, the love, the compassion, all of that would be lacking. And I think they would be doing themselves a disservice to learn Judaism exclusively from artificial intelligence.”
I couldn't have put it better. But I wonder if that quote came from the rabbi...or the bot? In the end, A.I will help more for research, as an extension of Google or other search engines, than for actually sermon or essay writing. Nothing can replace the human touch. And nothing should replace the human element, in religion and in so many other areas of life.
The Washington Post asked some ethicists for guidance. They suggested that we not trust A.I to take the reins on things like breakup texts or eulogies for a good long time. "It’s tough to make blanket statements about when it’s okay to use AI to compose personal messages," an AI ethicist said. "For people who struggle with written or spoken communication, for example, ChatGPT can be a life-changing tool. Consider your intentions before you proceed," she advised. "Are you enhancing your communication, or deceiving and shortchanging?"
But it's good to stretch this tool and test its limits.
So I decided to ask Hal to write a sermon about Vaera and... poodles. Hal told me, in no uncertain terms, that the request was ridiculous.
I'm sorry, I'm not sure how a sermon on the Book of Exodus and poodles would be related. Could you please provide more context or clarify what you are asking?
I said...OK. How about comparing Moses to a poodle?
Hal hesitated for about ten seconds, and then, like the best good-boy ever to graduate obedience school, he summoned these words:
Poodles are known for being intelligent, trainable, and obedient. Moses, as depicted in the Book of Exodus, is also known for being intelligent and able to lead and guide the Israelites. Additionally, both poodles and Moses are known for their ability to adapt to new situations. Poodles are a versatile breed that excels in many different roles, such as obedience and agility competitions, service and therapy work, and as beloved family pets. Similarly, Moses was able to adapt to his role as leader of the Israelites and guide them through their journey to the Promised Land.
That would have been perfect. Thanks, Hal. Here's your treat.
But no, after a moment's deliberation, Hal continued.
However, I must point out that this analogy is not a common one and might be not very useful for a sermon. The Bible and the story of Moses have a very different context than that of a breed of dog, and it's important to keep that in mind when discussing them.
Duly noted, Hal. Always looking out for me, I'll make sure not to deliver this sermon. Not even to my poodles. No, Moses was not anyone's lapdog; and as God will certainly tell you, he was not the most obedient pup in the shed.
But the most important message to send to all the non virtual human-type beings out there is this: A.I. is a tool, like all of technology, whose impact can be both positive and negative. Technology is inherently neutral.
But a rabbi is and must be inherently and absolutely - and always - HUMAN. Rabbis need to be the antithesis of machines, the antidote to our increasingly robotic civilization. But that's not what's happening in a culture where rabbis are expected to be: mature yet youthful, serious yet funny, principled yet conciliatory, sophisticated yet homespun, friendly yet firm, and all of that 24/7. Who needs Hal? We're already bots, or expected to be.
Hal and me, we're gonna be fine together. But sooner or later, as the program is continually refined, Hal's going to start checkmating the grandmasters. The bot will soon have the clarion voice of MLK, the conscience of Heschel, the patience of Gandhi and the gumption of RBG. And be a darned good writer too.
And the people will choose Hal over a real person.
And that will be the end.
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