AI & birthday story

Friday, 26 January, 2024 - 3:10 am

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Artificial intelligence has been chasing me this week.

At an event I attended, one of the speakers shared how she prepared for the speech. She fed the main points into Chat GPT and out came a speech.

In case you, like me until a few minutes ago, were not aware what the acronym GPT means, here it is:

Generative Pre-trained Transformer

The GPT stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer," which refers to how ChatGPT processes requests and formulates responses.

From a community member I received a suggestion on how to better respond to tourist enquiries. He offered to donate and implement that software that his company had developed. He showed me some samples of how this technology could respond efficiently to many of the standard enquiries. The results are incredible.

Just this week, it came even closer to home. A young man in his twenties that I was studying Torah with, suggested that I ought to be using AI for writing my articles.

To prove his point, he typed in a few words on the topic that we had been discussing about the Parsha‘the deeper spiritual significance of the splitting of the reed sea upon Exodus from Egypt, in rabbi yosef kantor style’. To my amazement a coherent and somewhat decent article appeared.

And then I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Do my readers think that I write my weekly article via artificial intelligence?

My mind rewinds some three decades when after hosting some of the oldtimers of the Thailand Jewish community for dinner, one of them complimented the taste of the food. But then innocently asked if the ‘cook’ had made the meal. I remember the look on my wifes face. She had worked so hard on preparing the meal, and it was assumed that a hired maid in the kitchen had been the cook?

How can I prove to you that I actually compose this article myself?

An even more existential question. What contribution and point is there to my efforts in painstakingly composing a weekly torah inspirational thought?

This question became more acute this week as my younger friend showed me firsthand the incredible power of artifical intelligence.

(There was an aspect that was even scary. He showed me a video of him speaking, marketing a service online. It was his face, his voice, his style of words, but he told me that he had not actually spoken those words or made that video. ‘Look closely at the mouth’ he told me. I saw his mouth annunciating the words. The same words that I was hearing in his voice. He told me if you look closely you will see that those teeth are not my teeth. In todays advancing world, there are now computer simulator programs that can have you ‘say’ things that you never said, in your voice and with your face. You need to be a technology whiz to figure out what is authentic and what is fabricated.

I share this, as I think it is imporant to recognize that thes days even if you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ someone say something online, you cannot be sure that it is not doctored and altered to look and sound like they have said those words. It may be a simulated and artifical statement).

After seeing what AI can do, why would I be motivated to be writing these lines?

Blessed be Hashem, for providing me the answer even before I knew that I had the question.

Last Shabbat morning, before I went to Synagogue to give my Torah class and pray, I was reading through some responsa with the Rebbe. This is one of my standard early Shabbat morning rituals. It is fascinating and inspiring to see the questions about daily life that were presented to the Rebbe, and the light and Divine Torah wisdom that the Rebbe shared in his responses.

Out of the tens of volumes of correspondence, I was in middle of reading the ones from 1984 and on Shabbat morning I arrived at the following letter:

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Chabad head office in NY, had written to the Rebbe that he was invited to officiate at a wedding on the 14 of Kislev and asked for a blessing for the young couple and their families.

Rabbi Kotlarksy also shared some background about the families of the couple he was going to marry. The chattan-groom was a relative of a famous rabbi in prewar Warsaw, Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson who was subsequently deported to Auschwitz and murdered by the Nazis.

The Rebbe responded to the part of the note about the family connection to Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson:

‘I think that he (Rabbi Michelson) attended my wedding, and also gave me the book that he had authored, as a gift.

(The book is in the bookshelf in my office, near the Midrash Tanchuma close to the electric)

I will lend the book to you to hold it under the chupah while you officiate at the wedding and say the blessings.

The Divine providence of this now becomes apparent - 55 years later’

The Rebbe’s wedding to his wife had taken place on the exact same Hebrew date, 14 Kislev, in 1929. Fifty-five years later exactly, on 14 Kislev 1984, the Rebbe’s representative would be officiating at the wedding of the relative of the great rabbi who had attended the Rebbe’s wedding in Warsaw.

It is a fascinating bird’s eye view of Hashem’s Divine Providence as it weaves through history, sometimes only becoming apparent after fifty-five years.

I was reading a story from 1984, or so I thought initially.

Suddenly, the story jumped out from the annals of history and became a contemporary 2024 story. The Divine Providence continued, unfolding in front of my eyes.

You see, last Shabbat morning – Shevat 10 – was my 55th birthday.

I was stunned, excited beyond words.

I had received a message about turning 55 from the Rebbe’s teachings that had Providentially reached me on the exact day of my birthday.

I am sharing this with you as one of the customs related to celebrating a birthday, is sharing with others the inspiration that the birthday celebrant is imbued with on that special day.

To me the message was so pertinent. Especially in a generation where the speed of life has become so accelerated.

Each one of us is an irreplaceable part in Hashems world. Every one of us has a role to play. Something that we are uniquely positioned to carry out.

You and I, all of humanity, are playing a role in the master plan of G-d that may span decades or even millennia.

Usually when we talk about seeing Divine Providence at work, we refer to events that ‘line up’ in a shorter time span.

But sometimes, Hashem gives us a glimpse into the multi decade mosaic of life and the way that Hashem orchestrates every single detail.

To me it was a powerful reminder that even though I am not the young man I was in my twenties, I have unique possibilities open to me specifically now as I am older. There are things that are waiting for me to do and interact with, that have been ‘cooking’ for fifty-five years. It is my privilege and duty to be the one to fulfil Hashem’s plan that has been scheduled on my individualized Divine calendar for today.

You and I are part of the greatest mission imaginable. You may be in your eighties or even nineties (I am blessed to have many in my readership who have passed the eighty and even ninety year mark thank G-d, may Hashem bless them with long healthy life) yet, you are still on active duty, ‘soldiers’ in Hashems army. Indispensable links in Hashems master plan.

There are things that are waiting for you to interact with and bring to their cosmic Divine purpose, since you were born.

Oh, I was talking about replacing my personally written article with Chat GPT?

Could I have written this article with artificial intelligence?


This required authentic Divine Intelligence. To bring everything together.

The Rebbe and Rabbi Michelson in 14th of Kislev Warsaw wedding in 1929.

Rabbi Kotlarsky of the Rebbe’s office, with the relative of Rabbi Michelson in New York at a chuppah 55 years later in 1984.

Myself in Bangkok reading this letter exactly on my 55th birthday in 2024.

Certainly, artificial intelligence can help us fulfil our Divine mission. It is a tool sent to us by Hashem, much like a sewing machine that alleviated the hard-working tailor from hand stitching clothing.

For the meantime I write my own articles 😊 .

In one of my meetings this week, when I brought up the AI concept, a woman shared with me that she had received a birthday card from her adult son. It started off with ‘Dearest mother, the sweetest thing in my life, I cannot imagine living life without you…’ and other kind of talk that her son was not wont to use in their interactions. A mother knows right away if her son wrote the note, or he used an artificial service. She called her son and told him that if he sends an artificially written note, she would rather not get the note…’

It is important to remember. In relationships, authenticity and heartfulness still counts.

In our relationship with Hashem, it is the passion and lovingness that we express to Him that he really desires.

Our deepest feeling of appreciation and yearning for G-d are expressed in our physical fulfillment of His commandments. You cannot claim to truly love G-d and refrain from fulfilling his requests of you.

Yet, it is really that ‘hitlahavut’ and fieriness in the relationship that He seeks.

Artificiality, doing things out of rote and habit, needs to be replaced with genuineness and excited devotedness.

Sometimes Hashem even chooses to hide His face from us, to allow us the gift of being thirsty for Him. It is critical not to mistake this ‘hide and seek’ as a rejection by Him, G-d forbid.

It is an invitation to long for Him, to yearn, with an insatiable and heartfelt thirst.

Let us aim at keeping our relationship with G-d passionate and heartfelt even while He is revealed and available to us, and may we generate a thirst for Him without the ‘hiding of face’ that is so painful.

Till we merit the ultimate blessing we await the coming of Mashiach which will bring peace, healing and eternal authenticity in our relationship with the Almighty.

With fervent prayers for Israel, freedom for our hostages, successful and safe homecoming to our holy soldiers, healing to our wounded and security and SHALOM for the entire region and the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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