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Writing an Ethical Will for Selichot

Last year on Yom Kippur, I spoke about ethical wills. According to, an ethical will, or in Hebrew, a tz’a-va’ah is “a way to share your values, blessings, life’s lessons, hopes and dreams for the future, love, and forgiveness with your family, friends, and community. An ethical will is not a legal document; it does not distribute your material wealth. It is a heartfelt expression of what truly matters most in your life.”

An ethical will reflects the voice of the heart and the wisdom that comes from experience. References to this tradition go all the way back to Genesis and are found throughout Jewish history. It can take any form – a letter, a poem, a simple note, or perhaps a video. It is written from parent to child, from one spouse, partner, relative, or friend to another, and sometimes from a child to a parent or sibling. One need not wait until the end of life to share it with loved ones.

As we prepare for the upcoming High Holy Days, we have an opportunity to contemplate life’s big questions, including: what values are most important to you? Why? How do you make those values manifest in your life? What experiences have you learned the most from? What life lessons do you hold dear? How do they influence your daily life? Who are the people closest to you? How have they made an impact on you? Do they know your answers to the other questions?

By asking and striving to answer these types of questions, we gain clarity around how we are living our lives, and what changes we might want to make in order to live our values fully. The beauty of an ethical will is that it reminds us how we ought to live.

This year, we will be offering an ethical will writing workshop as our Selichot program. On Saturday night, September 21, please join Jeffrey and Susan Englander and me for a chance to learn more about ethical wills and to begin crafting your own. In preparation for Selichot and for the High Holy Days, I encourage you to think about life’s big questions throughout the month of Elul, which begins on September 1.

On Selichot night, feel free to bring a laptop or tablet if you are most comfortable typing, a journal if you are most comfortable writing, or a smartphone if you would prefer to video your ethical will. We will provide paper and pens, as well as snacks throughout the evening.

The evening will be as follows:

8:00 – Havdalah

8:15-9:45 – Workshop

9:45 – Selichot Service

The service will be a little earlier this year. We hope this will enable more people to participate.

I wish you a meaningful month of Elul, and I look forward to seeing you on Selichot night, if not sooner.