For the week ending 20 March 2021 / 7 Nissan 5781

Parashat Vayikra

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), also known as Torat Kohanim — the Laws of the Priests — deals largely with the korbanot (offerings) brought in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting). The first group of offerings is called a korban olah, a burnt-offering. The animal is brought to the Mishkan's entrance. For cattle, the one bringing the offering sets his hands on the animal. Afterwards, it is slaughtered, and the kohen sprinkles its blood on the Altar. The animal is skinned and cut into pieces. The pieces are arranged, washed and burned on the Altar.

A similar process is described involving burnt-offerings of other animals and birds. The various meal-offerings are described. Part of the meal-offering is burned on the Altar, and the remaining part is eaten by the kohanim. Mixing leaven or honey into the offerings is prohibited. The peace offering, part of which is burned on the Altar and part is eaten, can be either from cattle, sheep or goats.

The Torah prohibits eating blood or chelev (certain fats in animals). The offerings that atone for inadvertent sins committed by the Kohen Gadol, by the entire community, by the prince and by the average citizen are detailed. Laws of the guilt-offering, which atones for certain verbal transgressions and for transgressing laws of ritual purity, are listed. The meal-offering for those who cannot afford the normal guilt-offering, the offering to atone for misusing sanctified property, laws of the "questionable guilt" offering, and offerings for dishonesty are detailed.


What a Piece of Work…

“When a man among you brings an offering…” (1:2)

I've just finished reading "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution" by Walter Isaacson. A great read.

Isaacson traces two parallel aspirations in computer history. One, to build a computer that mimics the human brain. The other — and, to date, the much more successful goal — was to harness the vast power of the computer to work together with mankind. Think Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, Facebook, eBay and more.

"A computer’s central processing unit can execute instructions much faster than a brain’s neuron can fire. Brains more than make up for this, however, because all the neurons and synapses are active simultaneously, whereas most current computers have only one or at most a few CPUs,” according to Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig, authors of the foremost textbook on artificial intelligence.

"So why not make a computer that mimics the processes of the human brain? Eventually we’ll be able to sequence the human genome and replicate how nature did intelligence in a carbon-based system,” Bill Gates speculates. “It’s like reverse-engineering someone else’s product in order to solve a challenge.”

The authors continue: "That won’t be easy. It took scientists forty years to map the neurological activity of the one-millimeter-long roundworm, which has 302 neurons and 8,000 synapses. The human brain has 86 billion neurons and up to 150 trillion synapses.”

"At the end of 2013, the New York Times reported on ‘a development that is about to turn the digital world on its head’ and ‘make possible a new generation of artificial intelligence systems that will perform some functions that humans do with ease: see, speak, listen, navigate, manipulate and control.’”

We are still waiting for that. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like the phrases the New York Times itself used in its 1958 story on the “'Perceptron,” which “will be able to walk, talk, see, write, reproduce itself…" etc. etc.

"True artificial intelligence, says Isaacs, "may take a few more generations or even a few more centuries. We can leave that debate to the futurists. Indeed, depending on your definition of consciousness, it may never happen. We can leave that debate to the philosophers and theologians. ‘Human ingenuity,’ wrote Leonardo da Vinci, whose Vitruvian Man became the ultimate symbol of the intersection of art and science, ‘will never devise any inventions more beautiful, more simple, or more to the purpose than Nature does.’”

As interesting a read as the book was, it missed the fundamental point: Only Man was created with a soul, a purpose and a destiny. And a desire to be close to his Creator: “When a man among you brings an offering…” Somehow I cannot see a robot doing that.

What a piece of work is Man!

  • Source: "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution" by Walter Isaacson

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