The Futuristic World of Self-Driving Cars

By Yonatan Gordon

Are self-driving cars better than the regular ones? Will we be able to sit back and read while our cars do all the driving? Now that Google’s computer laden cars have completed 300,000 miles of testing, we are taking this opportunity to explore this very futuristic topic.


Imagine a world without accidents or traffic jams. Where you could sit back and read your favorite book while the car does the rest. While Google hopes self-driving cars will allow people to be more productive in cars, we’d like to take you beyond the steering wheel for a moment—to a place where the mind always rules over the heart.

What is the issue with present-day models? We could say that the number one concern is human emotion. Let’s take the example of a long stretch of highway, with no turns or bumps in sight. Technically speaking, if everyone traveled at the same 120 mph, they would all get to the end of the strip safely. The world of speed limits comes into play when there are variables; such as the tendencies of the drivers behind the wheel or issues with the road itself.

If we are to embark on the topic of self-driving cars then, this very clearly brings to light the concept that “the mind rules over the heart” (הַלֵב עַל שָׁלִיט מֹחַ). Although this phrase is from the Zohar, the classic text of Chassidut, the Tanya, forms this as one of the most profound and fundamental tenets of our service of God.

Of all the different officials mentioned in the Torah, the judge is the one who most represents the lucid mind of Torah study and sanctity. The heart of the nation is represented by the king, who is completely subject to the rulings of the Torah scholars. The king is referred to is referred to as a “prince” or “president” (נשיא) and being mortal, he is liable to sin as the verse states, “When a prince sins.”[1] In fact, one of the reasons why the Torah limits the king’s number of wives and horses is, “so that his heart shall not become haughty,” relating in particular to the heart’s proclivity to sin. This is why the king’s special commandment is to carry a Torah scroll against his heart so that the Torah, his judge and his rational mind, will rule over his heart and he won’t become arrogant over his brethren.


Clearly then it is the king who is subject to “God,” represented here by the judges. But we can also generalize our discussion to our technological topic at hand. One straightforward correspondence is with regards to the limit placed on horses. The horses of today are cars, to the extent that the power of a car’s engine is called its horsepower; relating to the estimation that an average horse can achieve 33,000 foot-pounds of work every minute. We also see from this limit on the chariots of a king, that we need to be careful not to become arrogant while in our vehicles.


The other important factor is the car’s computer components. The smarter cars become (as the argument goes) the safer we drive. The source for this idea is again our discussion. The one who is the most courageous of heart (lion hearted) is also the one who leads the Jewish people. In lieu of his emotional proclivities, however, he is instructed by God to carry a Torah along with him always. How do cars remind us of this concept? By limiting the emotive elements of our driving, self-driving cars increase our ability to relax and think of other things while. To the extent that perhaps in the future, we will be able pick up a book and start reading. This actually more closely relates to the term “automobile” then our present day vehicles. We’d like if possible, to set our mundane tasks on auto drive while we turn our minds to loftier pursuits.


Even though the king needs to be subject to “God,” represented here by the judges, the king still has special privileges that no other Jew has. This comes to reveal that although the Torah’s rulings must be absolutely abided by—even by the king, the heart of the nation—there is a more profound level at which “the innermost point of the heart rules over the mind.” The king in particular bears this paradox of conveying an outer casing of sovereignty, while nurturing an inner sense of profound lowliness and humility.


How would we explain this? At first we mentioned that the source of the concept for self-driving cars can be found in the dictum that the mind should always rule over the heart. Now we are turning our focus to the engine that serves as the “heart” of the car. There is an earnest question humble people have about physical possessions. Should they buy the nicest things to show in order to glorify the name of God by the proper use of these objects? Or should they live a life foregoing the physical in an attempt to teach others the importance of eternal, spiritual truths?

We can answer this quandary in short manner by referencing the above. If you view yourself to be a true king, subject to the Torah and the judges of Israel, then maybe you should buy a luxury vehicle. [2] If you are buying it to feel exalted, then perhaps you should consider a simpler vehicle. As mentioned, it is the “innermost point of the heart” that also allows the king to safely traverse this paradox and attain both physical and spiritual splendor. If the engine that drives you is truly humble, then you are allotted a retinue of horsepower. As with the king who has a limit to number of horses he can possess, we would call this our Jewish speed limit. That the strength or courageousness of the heart (typified by the engine, the “heart” of the car) should not be more powerful than one’s ability to properly control the vehicle. The mind rules over the heart. As the computational elements of the car allow it to travel faster with no risk of accidents, so too can the power of the engine and speed of the car be increased.


Whereas by studying the Torah’s laws, one can reach a level of knowing the entire Torah, the innermost point of the king’s humility is infinite, “The heart of kings is unfathomable.”[3] Thus, the king’s external demeanor is subject to the rulings and teachings of the judges, but his innermost core of humility actually rises above their level and rules over them. What this means for us is that the engine core is actually a more dominant concept than the self-driving component. We see this today with electric cars. Part of what makes self-driving cars so exciting is the concept of replenishment. That somehow, by natural means, cars of the future will be able to travel effortlessly without the needs for consumables like fossil fuel. More than “black gold,” however, time is a more precious commodity. It’s one thing to say that the cars of the future will drive themselves. The topic becomes a game changer when this technology limits the consumption of this commodity called time.

When does a person do with all this newfound time? What does the king do when his kingdom is properly ruled by his concern for each member of his populace? He begins to come forth with new innovations in Torah. By studying the Torah’s laws one can reach a level of knowing the entire Torah, but the innermost point of the king’s humility is infinite. This is why you will find most marketing related to self-driving vehicles speak about all the things a person can read while riding in these cars. If given the opportunity, each of us would choose to be a king.

Within our personal Divine service, the level of replenishable driving is that of a completely righteous individual who has refined himself such that he acts naturally and accurately. Without having to deduce it rationally, his Torah knowledge is naturally gained. [4] When we speak of time as a consumable, this is what we mean to say.

300,000 TEST MILES

Why did we choose to write this article at the 300,000 test mile point? 300 relates to the completion of the three intellectual attributes—Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge. 1000 are the points of light Moses received at Mount Sinai, “Israel Ba’al Shem Tov” (יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּעַל שֵׁם טוֹב), or “old student” (תַלְמִיד וָתִיק). These are three figures that you can imagine as sitting behind the wheel of these self-driving vehicles. Of course the commonality between all three is that they are spending all their time learning and teaching Torah.

[1] Leviticus 4:22.

[2] As with the golden chariot of the Holy Rebbe Yisroel of Ruzhin.

[3] Proverbs 25:3.

[4] This is the level of “natural consciousness” described in our book מודעות טבעית and elsewhere.

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