Midreshet Amit


Back to Main Page

Towards the Torah

By: Rabbi Daniel Goldstein

One of the most interesting areas of science is the study of artificial intelligence. The very notion of a machine which can be programmed to learn, think and react to situations independently of direct commands captures the imagination. The idea of artificial intelligence was pushed to the extreme in Stanley Kubrik's 1968 film 2001: a Space Odessy. In that famous film, a computer named HAL-9000, challenges his human operators. In one poingnant scene, HAL refuses to obey the order of Dave Bowman, the crew commander:

BOWMAN: Hal, I'm in command of this ship. I order you to release the manual hibernation control.HAL: I'm sorry, Dave, but in accordance with sub-routine C1532/4, quote, When the crew are dead or incapacitated, the computer must assume control, unquote. I must, therefore, override your authority now since you are not in any condition to intelligently exercise it.

To which Bowman replies: "Hal, unless you follow my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you", which he proceeds to do.

What an ingenious plot line: A creator creates something and programs it with the ability to make choices. Yet, at a certain point the creation desires to exert its own independence and turns against the programmers in a clash of wills which pits creator against creation. Now where have I heard that one before?

What is a human being if not an amazingly constructed piece of intricate hardware imbued with intelligence from our Programmer, from Hashem, with the ability to anticipate situations and make decisions? And most of the time, like HAL, we challenge our creator and advance our will above His.

The idea of divine retribution, the rebuke and punishment of the Tochacha which will be read next week are clearly Hashem's way of saying "unless you follow my instructions, I shall be forced to disconnect you", but there is question to be asked: is there a failsafe? Is there something in the "program" that might avert this problem in the first place?

This week, in Parshat Behar, we read the following mitzvah:

 "And you shall count for yourself seven sabbatical years, seven years seven times. And the days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you. You shall proclaim [with] the shofar blasts, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the shofar throughout your land. And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family (Vayikra 25:8-10)."

What is the meaning of the mitzvah of Yovel, and what is the purpose of the counting? The simple explanation of the mitzvah of Yovel is as follows: Hashem gave us each a place in this world. Every tribe and every family has a specific role to play and a place to be. But as we know, we are not stagnant beings, we are creative. Someone may want to buy and someone may want to sell. Someone may want to move out and someone may want to move in. We all have issues and considerations and goals and ambitions. Simply put, humans don't sit still.

Hashem brought us into the land and through a prophetic process divided the sacred land into portions for each Jewish family. One might think that land given to you by Hashem is worth holding onto. You might think that if Hashem gave you a certain amount land that would suffice. You might think so, but that's not the way it is. Humans don't sit still. We are thinking, and planning, moving and changing. We have been programmed for independence, and independent we are.

So Hashem tells us: go ahead, move around. You can change but remember to count the years. Every year, you must be aware that you are not moving away from the starting point, as a particle moving in space slipping farther and farther away. Rather, you are moving towards something. You are moving back towards the starting point -"and you shall return, each man to his family." Simply put, we are not moving outward into the reality we have created through our will. We are moving back to the reality which Hashem created.

The Kli Yakar understood the mitzvah of counting the years as a metaphor for our own lives. The Kli Yakar writes that the fifty years represents the major years of productivity in persons life. If a person spends his or her life buying and selling and planning and moving ahead and moving on and exercising autonomy without any thought to the purpose of all of that planning and buying and moving, then what will be at the end of life? What will be when that person is, if I can borrow a phrase, when that person is disconnected?

However, if a person lives their life with a goal, so that all that planning and growing and moving and buying and selling are in the context of "and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year", then life will not be a collision course between creator and creation. Rather, life will be a harmonious blend of the two.

There is a clear connection to be made between that sefirah, the counting of the years, and the sefiras haomer in which we find ourselves. After yetzias mitzrayim, we were freed. Up until that point, our lives were micromanaged. We had no time for thinking, let alone planning and creating for ourselves. But after yetzias mitzrayim, we were finally free. Complete independence. Where does autonomy lead: away from the creator or towards him? And so we count the sefira as a reminder of where we are going—towards the highest expression of human endeavor—towards the Torah.