Last week, three young adults – Internet famous for videotaping death-defying stunts in canyons and cliffs – died falling over a 100-foot waterfall while filming another dangerous stunt.

Under the moniker "High on Life," the group travelled to exotic locales risking life and limb to entertain social media millions. After the fatal incident, their official YouTube channel declared that the three "stood for positivity, courage, and living the best life you can."

While mourning these tragic deaths, we must wonder: Do these activities indeed represent the values of "positivity, courage, and living the best life you can"?

This incident is part of a wider trend toward more extreme and lethal escapades:

  • soaring through a canyon at 150 mph in a wingsuit
  • free-climbing a sheer mountain face or tall building (grasping for a tiny rock or crevice with no rope or safety gear)
  • scuba diving to record-breaking depths
  • solo slacklining – tightroping between two mountaintops with no harness or net.

What drives these young people – smart, vibrant, driven, and brimming with limitless potential – to take such risks?

Whether it's for the adrenalin rush or the quest for digital fame and fortune (one YouTube stuntman, who died on camera, said he was seeking “more viewers”), the pursuit of one's goals via highly dangerous stunts is clearly reckless and wrong.

Spiritual Yearning

Ingrained in the human psyche is a call that beckons us beyond physical limits. We seek to soar higher, to defy gravity, to fly!

Kabbalists explain that just as every physical entity is drawn to its source – pulled down by gravity and ultimately biodegrading into earth – so too the human being, created with a spiritual soul, is drawn upward toward its pure spiritual Source.

Rabbi Shmuel Dov Eisenblatt writes: "This constant search for the 'something that forever alludes us' is really an expression of our deep-seated aspiration to capture the inner, spiritual vitality that courses through the universe... Our main sources of happiness [requires] a more profound dimension than the purely physical, to satisfy our emotional and spiritual needs to their deepest levels... When we try to quench our thirst for spiritual pleasure, with the saltwater of shallow physical acquisition or experience, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Our fundamental craving has not been satisfied."

The human soul seeks expansive outlet in the form of new, untried sources of excitement. (As well, the urge to travel is primarily the agitated, unsatisfied soul seeking its place of purpose.)

Short of base-jumping off a tall building, how do we replicate that energy in a kosher way?

Rollercoaster Thrills

Imagine you're at the amusement park, watching people getting off the rollercoaster. At first, everyone giggles with joy: “It's great to be alive!” But keep watching. A minute later, they're more serious, as the realities of life resurface. Another minute, they're buried in their cellphones, distracted by nonsense.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l said that the secret of life is to feel like you're constantly getting off the roller coaster. Each morning, awaken feeling refreshed and restored: I can see! I can hear! I can walk! Capture those moments with a few words that consciously express gratitude for the gift of life.

A child gleefully bounding around the room, said the Kotzker Rebbe, demonstrates the normal human condition of joy. Life itself is enough reason to rejoice: the brilliant colors, array of textures, intoxicating aromas, beautiful music, and exquisite foods.

The key is to connect every exhilarating moment to your higher purpose, using the five senses as an inspiring means to an end – sparking our deepest spiritual drives.

Trivial Stunts

Years ago on the Golden Gate Bridge, I witnessed first-hand the human spirit exerting itself through death-defying stunts as my friend set the world record for the longest Tarzan Swing. (This proved to be artificial, ultimately unsatisfying, and over the years in constant need of bigger boosts.)

Standing on the bridge as this media stunt unfolded, I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Is an act of dangerous, trivial entertainment what society should be glorifying?

It is in our hands to pull our culture back from the brink. The next time we're scrolling through Facebook and see a cool death-defying stunt, reflect: Does my attention encourage such activities?

Before signing up for hang-gliding lessons, ask yourself: Is there a more lasting, genuine way to appreciate the thrill of life?

The recent death of the three young people over the waterfalls is tragic because it didn't have to happen. Let their memory inspire us to rethink the very idea of society granting social and financial capital to those risking death for fame, fortune and thrills.