Ethical Wills class explores how to create a lasting legacy of values
“It’s one thing to have a will that details who gets which things after your passing, it’s another to share your values, wishes, hopes and even memories with your loved ones. An ethical will can touch and inspire generations that will follow you,” said Rabbi Jonathan Kremer, who is offering a series of classes on Ethical Wills at Shirat Hayam in Ventnor.
Ethical wills are a Jewish invention originating in the Torah, with patriarchs Jacob and Moses orally passing on values to guide future generations.
“The patriarch Jacob tells his twelve sons ‘what is to befall you in days to come’ (Genesis, chapter 49); he reflects on some sons’ actions, on others’ traits; he predicts, in vague terms, others’ futures. At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses offers a lengthy farewell blessing to the people of Israel,” said Kremer.
This 3,500-year-old Jewish tradition of creating ethical wills has been increasingly embraced by the general public. Over the past several years, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has publicly recommended it, the New York Times and other popular media have covered the topic, and several books have been written on the topic by rabbis as well as lay professionals working in health care and law.
What began as a Jewish oral tradition eventually evolved to become a written document. According to Kremer, a selection of such wills written from medieval to modern times can be found in the book “Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them,” by Rabbi Jack Riemer (with forward by Rabbi Harold Kushner).
“An ethical will can say just about anything, though usually non-material things are addressed, such as personal or family history, life lessons, requests of or hopes for those receiving the will, religious feelings and wishes. It can contain reflections, exhortations, reminiscences, expositions, practical guidance or expressions of feelings,” said Kremer.
Ethical wills can also take many forms. “Ethical wills have been written in rhyme, as prose, as a numbered list or a structured outline; I imagine that one could be done in the style of a graphic novel,” said Kremer. According to the New York Times, some people are also going high tech, recording their legacy of values and stories via power point, video, digital scrapbook, and even Facebook pages.
The AARP suggests a number of areas to consider when creating an ethical will: Your most cherished values and beliefs; spiritual beliefs that have guided your life; your hopes and dreams for future generations; important life lessons, events, and stories you would like to pass on; those you would like to forgive and those from whom you would like forgiveness; what you most love; your regrets.
Notably, people of all ages find benefit and value from creating ethical wills. CelebrationsOfLife.net includes examples of ethical wills written by everyone from new mothers to 99-year-olds.
Kremer’s Ethical Wills series, which began March 1, will be offered tonight (Wednesday, March 15) at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, March 29, also at 7 p.m. The free classes are being held at Shirat Hayam, 700 North Swarthmore Avenue in Ventnor. For more information, call the synagogue at (609) 822-7116. s