Elul 26 5775  – September 10 2015


How do I want to be remembered?

Last night at Lab/Shul HQ in NYC, Stephanie Levy, a clinical bioethicist, led a workshop on creating our ethical wills. Not for the faint hearted. And yet, how simple, profound and noble an act, no matter what age, not just for what if, and what intentions do we leave behind, but also for the mere process of reflecting on what matters most to me – today.

Ethical wills go back to the Bible, when elderly Jacob gathers his 12 sons for his last words to each of them.  The popular author Shalom Aleichem’s ethical will made it into New York Times on May 17, 1916 as a “a fine example of the traditional ethical will left in all ages by the great men of Israel.”


The tradition is enjoying a  recent revival (New York Times 2014). Different than property wills – who gets what, or living wills – medical instructions, ethical wills are about our unique legacy. Participants in the workshop talked about it in terms of ‘gifts to our children, friends, and selves’, ‘confrontation with truth’, ‘a gift of spiritual health’ and ‘a wise nagging from beyond the grave’…

A reflection on our lives.

Later this year Lab/Shul will present a series of master workshops focusing on the creation of ethical, living, and property wills for ourselves and for the loved ones in our lives. Tonight’s workshop inspired me to get on it.. for so many good reasons..These are daunting and delicate matters and require wise containers to be developed and sustained in safe and intimate community setting.

But today, on day 26 of prepent, with 14 days until our the day of our atonement and truth, I want to focus on just one element of this practice, a mini-statement-of-will that will help me enter the gates of the new year with focus. And, who knows, I want to have this document there to be remembered by if just in case etc. It’s serious stuff.

During the next 13 days  I want to create a one page statement that will be completed by this Yom Kippur, kept privately and revisited by me at this time next year, on the next eve of Yom Kippur, may it be so, for a review and possible redaction. A private annual time capsule. (It could be a googledoc. But I’m going retro with pen and paper.) It’s probably best to have a partner in crime, a witness, who knows where you’ve got yours and vice versa. But won’t peek. Ever.

(Also. I vaguely recall that there is a Hasidic custom or story about one of the saintly ones or rebbes or mussarnicks writing a will before each yom kippur, but..? oh wise ones who read this – feel free to remind.. )

Just three questions. Of so many options. A mini version to get the process started. For your eyes only, for now.

I came up with one of the three questions for my own version, picked another one at a rabbinical students class yesterday at JTS, and got the third from the excellent book – with a list of optional ethical will guiding questions:  “So That Your Values Live On” – Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them. Another profound read on this is Reb Zalman’s The December Project.

  1. What one valuable lesson did I learn from my father, mother, or valued teacher?
  2. What accomplishments am I most proud of?
  3. What are the three things I am most passionate about?

Shalom Aleichem’s ends with his version of what matters most: “..the main thing – live together in peace, bear no hatred for each other, help one another in bad times, think on occasion of other members of the family, pity the poor, and when circumstances permit, pay my debts, if there be any.”

Let  these be days be days of focus, wisdom and good will.


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