What’s the most basic thing you’d want to have with you if you jumped out of a plane? A parachute, of course. But according to this New York Times video I just saw, parachutes are so 2007. Apparently a man named Jeb Corliss is hoping to be the first person ever to jump out of a helicopter without a parachute and survive. How you ask? Wearing something called a wing suit which looks like a cross between a monk, a flying squirrel, and Batman.
Now I’m not against the idea of technological advances. (People sometimes think that Orthodox Jews are like the Amish and shun technology but we only shun on Shabbos. During the rest of the week, most of us love it!) Technology is usually a good thing – it often makes life safer and more pleasant. The wing suit would obviously not fit into the "safer" category, though. There are also exploratory technological advances, like space travel, which although is dangerous and doesn’t make life more pleasant, has an inherent Jewish value in that the more we understand the universe we live in, the more we can appreciate the One who made it. The wing suit doesn’t accomplish that either.
So what is Corliss’s reasoning for wanting to do this? Because, as he explains in the video, "people have never done it before and it’s hard in this day and age to do something that’s never been done before." Hmmm. Maybe that’s what inspired the three-eared artist to get his surgery, but it’s a pretty poor answer in my opinion – especially when the stakes are life and death and will require Corliss to raise $2 million to build a runway (and think of all the better ways that that money could be used – like buying eighty $25,000 desserts!)
There used to be a time when doing something first meant inventing the light bulb or finding the cure to polio, but if Corliss is right and most of the important firsts have been done already, then why not be the 98th million person to visit a sick friend or give charity? True, acts like these don’t "make history" but they make the world a better place, and that’s more than Bat-monk can say he’s doing.