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The Robots are Coming for Your Job!
Parshat Vayelech/ Yom Kippur 5780

It’s here. I knew it was coming, and I had been on the lookout for it for years, but when it finally showed up, it looked nothing like what I was expecting. What I’m talking about of course is the fully automatic hamburger maker. The machine that takes your order, makes your burger to machine like perfection, and spits it out to you at the other end; hot, delicious, and as fresh as possibly can be.

Creator is a culinary robotics company, that owns a restaurant by the same name in San Fracisco, and they have the first fully automate robotic burger maker. Walk into the restaurant, and order your burger. You have some pre-set options ranging from, “Creator Vs. The World,” which is a standard cheeseburger made to compete with McDonald, Wendy’s etc, to the “Dad Burger” or “Tumami Burger.” But you can also pick your own combination of sauces, cheeses, and toppings.

Almost all the work is done in a huge glass case, so you can watch the building of your sandwich in real time. The brioche buns are only sliced upon the order being entered to preserve freshness. The buns are sliced, buttered and toasted, and then flipped onto an open container that makes its way down a special conveyor belt. The sauces are squirted on with a precision that few teenage crew members could manage. The tomatoes, pickles and cabbage are kept in clear vertical tubes and sliced or shredded on the spot for your sandwich. The cheese is grated fresh from a block of cheese and lands perfectly on the bun and then gets heated by overhead lights to melt in it’s place.

The meat patty is the one thing you don’t see being created, because people get squeamish watching raw meat ground up and grilled, but the meat for your burger is only ground after your order. It’s that fresh. Everything is that fresh. You watch your burger being made by a remarkable machine, and your burger comes out the other end ready for you to eat, having never been touched by a human hand. There is currently only one Creator restaurant in the world, and there is always a line around the corner. Obviously it is not kosher, so I’ll never know, but the people eating them claim that in the Creator Vs The World showdown, Creator seems to have won this battle. The freshness and precision placing of every ingredient seems to create a better burger.

Creator is not trying to make money off of their first location, like most startups coming out of the Bay Area, they are expected to lose gobs of money in their quest to gobble up market share. I imagine that future versions will perform all the same functions but without all the glass windows and high visibility machinery, cutting down costs and boosting speed. It is fair to say that within ten years most burgers made in fast food chains across the country will be made by robots.

While most Americans are following this development with a mixture of awe and indifference, the 3.9 million fast food workers are surely watching it with more apprehension than awe. Another machine is coming for our jobs.

The 650,000 bartenders watching videos of Tipsy the robotic bartender expertly creating drinks from a menu with hundreds of options in a Las Vegas hotel can’t feel too comfortable either. And the 3.5 million truck drivers surely can’t be happy seeing Elon Musk talk about the robotic truck that Tesla plans to start producing soon. Those robots are coming for everyone’s jobs!

Well, not everyone. Certain professions require more human skills than others. Physicians and surgeons are not so likely to be replaced by robots, although robots will definitely help them make more precise diagnoses or incisions, as they are already doing. Physical, occupational, and recreational therapists are on the list of jobs least likely to be taken over by automation soon. Dieticians and nutritionists as well. Overall, after reading through multiple lists of occupations least likely to be automated, it seems that the more you deal with people, the less likely your job will get automated. The more you deal with stuff, whether that is food, cargo, or industrial equipment, the more likely your job will get automated. If you are in a field that mostly deals with stuff, now would be a good time to start thinking about what skills you can add to your resume that will make you irreplaceable. I don’t mean to speak doomsday talk, but I did just watch a video of a robot make a perfect burger…

Yom Kippur is coming up, and a lot of us feel just a little bit apprehensive. On Rosh Hashanah, we read something in Shul that sounded like this, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed… who will live and who will die… who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will suffer…” Those are words that understandably might make one apprehensive. Is my number about to be punched? What am I going to be sealed for? Do I no longer bring value to the world? Is a robot coming for my job here on earth?

Our Sages tell us that there are a number of things that we can do in order to merit a favorable judgment at this time of year. One of them is to forgive others freely, even if we were seriously hurt by the actions of another, in the hope that G-d will forgive us freely as well. But another idea that is worth focusing on, is the concept of making yourself indispensable to your community. If G-d can’t replace you with a robot because you make such a difference to your community, then even if you may not deserve the best judgment on your own merits, you may just get a great judgment so that you can continue to be there for your community because they need you. The robot can’t come for your job, because the community needs you, you don’t just deal with stuff, you actually help people.

This past year, I saw this idea playing out right before my eyes. A person I know who has helped our community tremendously became very ill and was hovering between life and death. Miraculously, that person had a 180-degree turnaround and is now out and about continuing life as if nothing happened. Every time I see this person I want to make a bracha for the miracle of their medical turnaround. I firmly believe that in heaven, the defending angel was begging G-d, “You can’t take so-and-so away! The community needs them!!!” There is no robot in the world that can take the place of a person dedicated to other people’s needs, as only a human being has the depth to see where a need is, and step in sensitively and compassionately.

Even if we are not yet very involved in helping other people in our community, Yom Kippur is the perfect time to tell G-d how we plan to change that. We can create a specific plan of using one night a week to deliver meals for Yad Ezra, or one afternoon where we will personally provide respite for a parent with a developmentally disabled child who needs constant care. We can commit to calling up organizations in town and asking them, “How can I be of assistance?” We can commit to reaching out to the person we know who is not so popular and asking them out for lunch every other week. There are so many ways we can make ourselves indispensable to the community, so many ways we can ensure that robots can’t come for our job, we just need to focus less on the stuff and more on the people.

Gmar Chasima Tova!

RLB

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

The Dvar Torah this week comes from Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky’s wonderful piece on Torah.org

Parshas Vayelech has Moshe handing the reign of power to his beloved disciple Yehoshua, who now will grasp hold of the destiny of the Children of Israel. Moshe does not leave him without first guiding him through the difficult mission of leadership. At the end of Parshas Vayelech, (Deuteronomy 31:7), “Moshe summoned Yehoshua and said to him before the eyes of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous and do not be broken before them, for Hashem your G-d — it is he who goes before you.'”

The Torah does not specify what “strong and courageous” actually means. I conjured my own visions of how to be strong and courageous when dealing with a “stiff-necked” nation. It entailed exacting demands and rigid regulations. The Medrash, however, offers a totally diametric explanation.

The Yalkut Shimoni, a compendium of Midrashim compiled in the Middle Ages, discusses a verse in Hoshea. “Israel is but a beloved lad and in Egypt I had called them my child.” It quotes the verse in Deuteronomy 31:7, and explains the words “strong and courageous.” Moshe explained to Joshua, “this nation that I am giving you is still young kids. They are still young lads. Do not be harsh with them. Even their Creator has called them children, as it is written, (Hoshea 11:1) “Israel is but a beloved lad.”

Can the Midrash find no better words to translate the phrase telling Joshua to “be strong and courageous” other than be patience and understanding? In which way does forbearance show strength? How does courage translate as tolerance?

In the years of World War I, a young student who was fleeing the war-ravaged city of Slabodka sought refuge in Tiktin, a village near Lomza, Poland. A prodigious Torah scholar, he compensated for room and board by becoming a simple cheder teacher. He gave his lecture in a small schoolhouse, but the townsfolk were quite suspicious. There were no shouts from inside the one-room schoolhouse as it was with other teachers; the boys seemed to be listening. Rumor had it that the young man even let the children play outside for ten minutes each day in the middle of the learning session.

They decided to investigate. They interrupted his class one morning and were shocked. The kanchik (whip) used by every cheder-Rebbe was lying on the floor near the trash bin. Upon interrogating the children the parents learned that this radical educator never used it.

Outraged, the townsfolk decided to call a meeting with their Rabbi to discuss the gravity of the situation. Who knows what ideas a teacher who would not use the kanchik was imbuing in our children? They worried.

The local Rabbi pointed to a picture of Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Spector, the leader of Lithuanian Jewry. “Do you see that picture of the Kovno Tzadik?” He asked the townsfolk. “One day thousands of homes across the world will have this young man’s picture hanging on their walls.”

The elderly Rabbi was right. The young man became the leader of a generation, teacher of thousands and dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. It was the beginning of, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky’s career in education.

Moshe, the guide and architect of Jewish leadership, was empowering his disciple with a message of guidance. The words “be strong and courageous” embodied leadership of love and understanding. One can not talk of forbearance and patience without talking of strength and courage. But more important: one can not show true strength and courage if he is not patient and understanding.

 

Parsha Summary

The Parsha Summary this week was taken from Chabad.org

General Overview: This week’s reading, Vayelech, recounts the events of the final day of Moses’ terrestrial life. Moses transferred leadership to Joshua and wrote a Torah scroll which he handed over to the Levites. Moses commanded the Israelites to gather following every Sabbatical year, and informed them of the suffering which will be their lot when they will abandon the laws of the Torah.

Moses addressed the people, saying that he is 120 years of age on that day, and he is not permitted to cross the Jordan River together with them. Instead, Joshua will lead them, and G‑d will go before them and destroy their enemies.

Moses continued his talk: G‑d will vanquish the inhabitants of Canaan as He did the Emorites and Bashanites. Moses enjoined the Israelites to be strong and not fear their enemies.

Moses summoned Joshua and told him to be strong and courageous, for G‑d will be going before him and will not forsake him. Moses then wrote the entire Torah and gave it to the Kohnaim (priests) and the Israelite elders.

Moses gives the commandment of Hakhel (assembly), whereby every seven years, during the holiday of Sukkot which follows the Sabbatical year, all men, women, and children assemble and the king publicly reads sections of the Torah.

G‑d commanded Moses to enter the Tabernacle together with Joshua. G‑d appeared to them both and informed them that a time will come when the Israelites will abandon G‑d and stray after alien gods. At that time, G‑d will hide His countenance from the nation, and they will be subjected to much evils and troubles. Therefore, G‑d says, “Write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness…” This ‘song’ is narrated in next week’s Torah reading.

When G‑d’s wrath will find the Israelites as a consequence of their evil actions, they will claim that the misfortunes are befalling them because G‑d has abandoned them. At that time, the song which Moses and Joshua wrote will bear testimony that these events are in fact punishment for their sinful behavior.

Moses took the freshly concluded Torah scroll and gave it to the Levites. He instructed them to place it beside the Ark which contained the Tablets. Moses then gathered the entire nation to hear the song, wherein he would call upon the heavens and earth to be witnesses that the Israelites were forewarned regarding their fate.

Quote of the week: I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today. ~ William Allen White

Random Fact of the Week: There are 293 different ways to make change for a dollar.

Funny Line of the Week: I imagine if you knew Morse Code, tap dancing would drive you crazy!

Have an Introspective Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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