Unlike a conventional will, the legal document in which an individual specifies what should be the distribution of material possessions upon his or her death, an ETHICAL WILL delineates the ethical and moral principles that the individual encourages others— especially his or her children— to utilize as guidelines for a meaningful and joyous life.
In theory, every Jew is supposed to write an Ethical Will, but very few do. My Rabbi at Springfield’s Temple Israel, Barry Marks, informed me that in his 40-plus year rabbinical career I was only the second of all his congregants to ever write one. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to write one, but it is a Talmudic concept that it is more proper for a Jew specifically to will to his or her heirs important spiritual concepts but to give away to society at large most if not all of the material entities.
The inspiration to write my ethical will came to me some time in the late 1990’s when I read several articles on the subject. Over the subsequent months and then years, I gradually gathered in my mind and on various scraps of paper the elements of the ethical will that I wanted to create for my children. I procrastinated for about thirteen years (the same time frame as it takes to become a Bar Mitzvah), because I simply could not find myself in either the right frame of mind or the right place to just sit down to do it.
Finally, in September of 2011, I found the perfect creative mental and physical “space." It was during a vacation in Ashdod, Israel, in the apartment overlooking the Mediterranean that my Israeli cousins, Sarah and Uri, graciously let me use. Once there, the words, perhaps divinely inspired, just flowed like a geyser out of my mind straight through to my right hand holding fountain pen to paper. The words, phrases, and sentences appeared with hardly a hesitation. Thirteen years of procrastination and rumination mercifully distilled at last to perhaps twenty total hours of actual writing with brain, pen, and paper functioning in harmony. The precious first draft was reality at last, no longer a neglected ephemeral visage.
Upon my return home, over several months I made multiple rewrites, revisions and corrections, incorporating some of Rabbi Marks’s helpful suggestions. My skilled graphic artist friend, Robert Dorfman, of Peregrine Associates in Warrington, PA, then captured perfectly the document’s physical format that I had in mind. (Blue Stars of David and blue margins, except for the last page that features instead my own favorite color, green— a statement of "personal signature.")
So here it is— a document of which I am proud. It gives a sense of legitimacy to my life that has been full of mis-steps and misdirections. My kids have appreciated it. I think it is suitable to share with others as well.
May it give you inspiration and also clarification about some of the countless insights that are the essence of Judaism.
Of course, I do not pretend that my ethical will’s concepts and wisdoms are unique to me. I think one could reasonably describe my offering as merely another version of "Judaism Lite.”
Nevertheless, I maintain with confidence that its most important mandate IS actually THE most important obligation for every person— regardless of descent or background— who wants to be good and do good:
“RUSH TO DO EVEN THE SMALLEST GOOD DEED!”