Life story

Telling your life story in an ethical will

Unlike a last will, which disposes of items of material value, an ethical will is a statement to your survivors that records the beliefs and values ​​you wish to perpetuate. According to Rabbi Steve Leder, author of “For You When I’m Gone” (Avery), writing an ethical will to communicate our heritage, values ​​and understanding of life to the people we love is something that Jews have been doing since the 11th century.

It is a mitzvah to prepare an ethical testament for the moral guidance of your family, especially for their children and grandchildren, advises Rabbi Leder.

Chief rabbi of the 2,400-family Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, Rabbi Leder is certainly no novice at sitting down with families at the time of a death. Every pulpit rabbi is called to sit on a deathbed, to make sense of loss for grieving families, to hear life stories, to prepare a eulogy. Rabbi Leder claims to have presided over 1,000 funerals during his 35 years as a rabbi. He has also written extensively on grief and death, including the book “The Beauty of What Remains”.

Preparing an ethical will is not a complicated process, even if you are not a professional writer. It can be as simple as writing a letter to those you love, a letter that tells your life story and expresses your feelings, advice and hopes for the future.

Rabbi Leder includes a copy of his own ethical will to his children at the end of the book.

“For You When I’m Gone” is a practical guide, the result of ethical will writing workshops conducted over the past 15 years. Rabbi Leder teaches that the secret to writing a good life story lies in asking the right questions first. The book asks 12 questions in 12 chapters. “These questions are deliberate, as is the order in which I ask them,” Rabbi Leder writes.

Chapter 1 asks, “What do you regret? Starting with regret seems to be much easier since the start of the pandemic. There are a lot of things over the past two years that we missed or didn’t do.

Maybe our regret is about the life path we didn’t take. Or not building a deeper relationship until a friend or family member dies. Or understanding how we allowed others to script our own lives, or pretty much all the time we wasted.

Of course, you can’t go back and change the past. But, you can learn from the past. And, you can pass that learning on to your children in an ethical testament.

Rabbi Leder explains this by starting with the question, What do you regret? “demonstrates fearlessness and truth. It shows a vulnerability and honest reflection that adds credibility and depth to our responses to all of the questions that follow.

With regret, Rabbi Leder skips to Chapter 2, where he asks, “When did you lead with your heart?

He writes, “When you ask almost every person what matters most to them, they say it’s their family, their job, or a passion they’ve devoted a large part of their life to. Ask those same people how and why they chose…they will almost always tell you it’s the result of listening to their hearts.

After sharing the two moments in his life that he led with his heart, Rabbi Leder turns the chapter to the responses of a select group of friends he asked to share their stories.

The 10 additional chapters guide ethical letter writers in creating the memories their loved ones will cherish.

JHV recently attended a show presented by a Jewish funeral home. Presenters highlighted the benefits of funeral pre-planning. These benefits include getting your home in order, peace of mind and easing the burden of decision-making in times of vulnerability, as well as many of the financial benefits of planning ahead.

Do any funeral homes or synagogues in Houston run a multi-class death and bereavement program that includes writing an ethical will?

Given that the majority of active worshipers are 60 or older, this topic seems like a no-brainer for adult education.

Writing an ethical will is an opportunity to tell your loved ones what you want to say about your life. It’s also an opportunity to see if you live up to your ideals.


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