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Above Animals

During the recent summer Olympics of 2012 in London, athletes competed against each other in sports as well as in physical feats such as running, jumping and diving. However, if animals had been allowed to participate in the Olympics, it is unlikely that humans would have put up much competition. An article by Craig Sharp in the journal Veterinary Record lays out how humans fall far short of animals in Olympic feats. 

For example, the world champion sprinter, Usain Bolt, ran 200 meters in 19.19 seconds. A cheetah could run the same distance in 6.9 seconds, a racehorse in 9.98 seconds and a greyhound in 11.2 seconds. The maximum human jumping distance is 8.95 meters, compared to a kangaroo, which can leap 12.8 meters. The highest a human can jump is 2.45 meters in the air, not exactly impressive to the snakehead fish, which can jump 4 meters out of the water. Any sea creature can far surpass the human in swimming endurance, and at weightlifting, no human, muscular and trained as he may be, can beat the gorilla or elephant.

Why, then, do we continue to hold Olympics, to showcase human abilities that barely approach the level of animals? And what about those animal skills that we can never begin to acquire – such as flying, gliding, hibernation, egg laying, night vision, sonar navigation, regenerating organs, changing the color of one's skin, or being able to live under conditions of extreme heat, cold, or drought?

The answer, apparently, lies in the Olympic motto: “Citius, Althius, Fortius,” or “bigger, better and stronger.” However, what Olympic athletes fail to understand is that human achievement does not lie in the domain of sheer speed or brute strength, areas where we must concede an advantage to animals. Each of us must realize that G-d created each creature with its unique role. Trying to imitate the role of a different creature brings no glory to humankind.

What, then, is the special advantage of being human? It is not that we can jump farther or run faster than any creature. Rather, we have the flexibility and the ability to harness other natural forces to achieve our own aims. We may not be able to fly, but we can build machines that can fly faster and farther than the quickest eagle. G-d gave us mastery over nature so that we could transform the world, to make the physical into a vessel for the spiritual.

The body is an abode for the soul, and for this reason alone we must keep our bodies healthy and strong. But our physical strength is not an end in itself; it is a means by which we carry out the Divine will, to perform mitzvot and acts of kindness.

Now, during the time of exile, we are unable to fully experience the merging of physical and spiritual that occurs with every mitzvah we do. That revelation awaits us in the time of Redemption, when the spiritual impact of our mitzvot will finally be realized.


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