Elul and Ethical Wills

Below in italics is the Ethical Will Rabbi Steven Z. Leder created for his children. While ordinary wills tell our loved ones what to do with our material possessions, an ethical will teaches our values that we hope will live on. Elul, the Hebrew month before Rosh Hashanah, is a good time to create an ethical will because the goals of both are similar.

They both ask one to think about one’s priorities. Once one deciphers what is really important to him or her, that person can begin aspiring to achieve those ideals. This can be a great motivator because, like our vows to improve in the new year, ethical wills cannot simply be lipservice. We do not have to achieve all of our goals, but we have to demonstrate that we are striving to do so.

More about ethical wills or leaving a spiritual legacy can be found in books such as, So That Your Values Live On by Jack Reimer and Professor Nathaniel Stampfer. Also one can find different examples of ethical wills – some going back hundreds of years – on the Internet. These arevaluable for the insight they give us into the cultural and social life of the individual Jew of some particular land at some specific period.


Dear Aaron and Hanna,

Most of all I want you to know that you and your mother are the joy of my life. All other accomplishments pale by comparison. I want you always to be good Jews because then I know you will be good, charitable, loving, disciplined, decent people. Live more for today than for tomorrow. Be forgiving to a fault. When you do something, do your very, very best. Tell many jokes both dirty and clean. Always try to have enough money so that you are never afraid to have someone else’s power over you but use your money to help the powerless. Never pick a fight but if someone picks one with you never back down. If you have done someone good, see it as a small thing. If someone has done you wrong, see that as a small thing too. See the world, dance and give. Let good food, warm bread and wine grace your table. Study Torah diligently. Be welcome in each other’s homes. Light a yahrzeit candle for your mother and me when we are gone. Most of all remember that I love you deeply and forever. Dad

Rabbi Leder is senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles.


In a similar fashion, the following Bat Mitzvah Blessing was bestowed upon Leia Shulamit Pfeffer, daughter of Amy Beth Kressel, M.D., and Rabbi Bruce Pfeffer. Written by Kressel, it was spoken by both parents on the pulpit of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.

After the service, Dr. Kressel explained to me that when she was thinking of what blessings she wanted to give her daughter, she realized that she did not necessarily want to bless her with smooth sailing all the time because weathering challenges could help her grow. Like the Ethical Will above, and the Jewish person’s task for Elul, she had to give considerable thought to what is important to her.


May Adonai bless you with long life, your strength undiminished, and your sight undimmed, like Moshe Rabeinu.

May you be blessed with health.

May you be blessed with the success you want for yourself.

May you be blessed with loving family and good friends.

May you be blessed with both the courage to take necessary risks and the wisdom not to be reckless.

May you be blessed with just enough struggle to grant you both resolve and compassion.

May you not face hardships that will break you.

May you be a blessing to your family, your people, and the world.

Kein Yi’hi Ratzon. May this be Adonai’s will.


Our writers and staff at The Jewish Post & Opinion wish you, our dear readers, a safe and secure 5775.

Jennie Cohen 9-3-14