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Judaism: is it ok to enhance/augment ourselves beyond normal


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Av 11, 5779
Should we be able to “augment” or “enhance” human beings beyond that which we consider “normal” (as in, superstrength, super-intelligence, etc)? What is the Torah’s perspective on this? What are the sources?
We all know that "free will" (although not totally "free"!) is the essence of human life, differentiating man from the rest of creation (Rambam, Tshuva, 5, 1). This free will enables us to overcome challenges, barriers or natural limitations (in kabbala: the 5th Godly sphere called: "Gevura"), and accordingly is not only allowed but, regarding positive issues, is extremely commended, developing us to be more Godly. This is what Rav Soloveichik calls "to destine our fate" (Ish HaEmuna, p. 67). On the other hand, even when we develop our potential, there will inevitably, still be some limitations, which were placed by God (and are for our benefit), for only Hashem Himself is unlimited. These limitations inevitably are going to change over time (according to the rules of evolution and "trial and error"), yet it's always the "God of History" who gradually "raises the bar" according to the needs and abilities of each generation (Rav Kook, Igrot HaReiya, 91). That being said, we should remember Chana's prayer that God grant her davka a normal child, not too tall nor too short, not too genius, but not too dull, etc. (Brachot 31b). We all know that the extremely intelligent, extremely beautiful, tall, etc. all have their problematic "downside". Nevertheless, this is regarding how we will be born, and not regarding how much we should invest afterwards, throughout life, in developing our potential, and overcoming limitations. Also, like with all changes, we must be careful that theyr'e not interfering or coming at the expense of other issues like social or physical health, e.g. learning too much can lead to too little sleep, exaggerated use of hormones, etc. The Rambam stresses that the middle path, not the extreme ones, are the general rule (Hil. De'ot 1, 6), yet the definition of "normal" can and often changes. In addition, it's important that these super-achievements should not be in order to bring us wealth, arrogance or Nobel Prizes, but rather to enable us to have that much more to contribute to Am Yisrael and humanity. Achievements are the means, not the end! (Rav Kook, Orot HaKodesh II, pp. 439-441)
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