The term “ethical will” could send a mind swirling with anxious thoughts of mortality and how to transmit a lifetime’s worth of grand wisdom in a strictly formatted document. “Where do I begin?” “Am I saying enough?” “Am I saying too much?” “Shouldn’t my children know what my values are? – they’ve known me all their lives!” The questions are endless and can create ‘analysis paralysis’ resulting in a total halt to the process – “I don’t plan on going anywhere just yet, there’s time for this in the future”.
Fortunately, an ethical will can be as simple as a letter that is framed around a particular moment in time, as author Dr. Eric L. Weiner does for his son’s bar mitzvah in his book, Ethical Wills: Words from the Jewish H.E.A.R.T. Still, even someone as well-versed in the subject matter as Dr. Weiner admits to having “started and stopped writing half a dozen ethical wills” before getting a “clear idea about what [he] wanted to say.”
While the process can be daunting, Dr. Weiner’s book provides an easily digestible format that allows the reader to take their time, pause, and move within different “themes”: Heritage – hopes for the future, Ethics – experiences in life, A – atonement and appreciation, R – religion, spirituality, and core beliefs, and T – tikkun olam (repairing the world) and treasures, in order to accomplish the goal. These themed sections created as a result of conversations with various Jewish leaders, as well as insights gathered from reading numerous ethical wills, contain carefully chosen question prompts and quotes. While many are Jewishly focused, such as, ‘Food…is important to Jews and many family memories focus on it. What food related stories come to mind? Write down a favorite recipe that has become a part of your family heritage,’ others are secular, ‘A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can in no other way – Mark Twain’ but in keeping with the Jewish theme. Capping off each portion are thought-provoking writing samples that further illustrate how people have approached each topic.
Though Dr. Weiner frames this book from a Jewish perspective, even making note of the first ethical will delivered by Jacob to his twelve sons in the Torah, much of it is applicable or adaptable to people of all faiths or secular backgrounds.
He has created a book that takes something which can seem larger than life – putting one’s life lessons on paper – and simplifies it. Some wisdom from my own mother has been to take things “one step at a time” and that is just what this book does – helps the reader move through the process one step at a time. In the spirit of guiding, which all wills should do, Ethical Wills from the Jewish H.E.A.R.T. does this extremely well.