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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article


 Legacy Letters

What matters in your life? What are the values, beliefs, and life lessons you hold dear? Have you ever told anyone? Have you ever written them down?

Many of us are familiar with living wills, sometimes called health care directives. Most of us have financial wills, sometimes called wills of inheritance. Ethical wills --- also called "legacy letters" --- are a third kind of document. Though not legal like the other two, they may be the most meaningful because they convey the voice of the heart. Writing an ethical will is an opportunity to record the thoughts and feelings you cherish.

The first example of an ethical will is found in Genesis 49 in the Torah. Jacob is dying and gathers his sons around to offer each of them individually his blessing. Over the centuries, individuals have communicated their messages; first orally and then through writing.

An ethical will is an opportunity to capture and preserve your wisdom and life experiences. Through a set of guided and structured exercises, it is possible to sum up in writing what you believe and feel is most important in your life. To facilitate the process, prompts are given to help you reflect on your successes, life lessons, and regrets. Some choose to write about what they learned from family members. Others focus on hopes for the future. Thoughts about religion and spirituality can be a component as well.

Writing an ethical will is not just for when one is at the end of one’s life. In fact, it’s best not to wait to capture this information. Writing when you are in your prime has the added benefit of helping you shape your vision as well as understand and clarify your values.

Mayim Rabim is fortunate to have two trained Legacy Navigators certified by Celebrations of Life. Suzanne Lundeen Abrams and I were trained by Dr. Barry Baines, Vice President of Celebrations of Life and Medical Director of Sholom Hospice. Suzanne and I are offering a workshop on Sunday, June 10 from 2:30 – 5:30 pm. Participants will receive a workbook (suggested donation $5) that contains exercises to assist with the process of creating an ethical will. Please RSVP to rabbistiefel@mayimmabim.org by Wednesday, June 6.

This is an opportunity for adults of all ages to articulate to family, friends and community what truly matters most in their lives. As Dr. Baines has taught, this may be one of the most cherished and meaningful gifts you give yourself, your family and your community. Carpe diem!