Ethical Will

At a recent Rabbinic Conference I was asked if I had an ethical will.  Rather than a statement of how our belongs and assets should be dispersed after our death, an ethical will is a statement of what values we hold dear and what we hope our descendants will use to guide their lives.  Rather than writing a flat, linear, text on a piece of paper, what if I could construct an ethical will in 3D?  While I would love to write one clean paragraph, the more I thought about it the more I realized that I don’t have one favorite piece of ethical wisdom.  I could create a list, but not necessarily a rank.  Also, while one piece of ethical insight might help in one situation, it may not apply in another.  I wasn’t thinking in terms of relative ethics but rather like tools. One would not use a hammer for grasping things, not try to hit something with a screw driver.  There are times when we need different perspectives, tools, keys to open our hearts and minds to deal with the challenges and questions set before us.


And so my ethical will took shape.  A twenty sided dice to go along with a list of my 20 favorite ethical statements from Jewish tradition and beyond.


1.   Take Long view and high road (Rabbi Shir Stutman commentary on Leviticus 26 in Text Messages edit by Rabbi Jeffery Salkin)

2. From a fortune cookie: God will help you overcome any hardship

3. Rabbi Yose: Discipline yourself in Torah for it is not born within you.  (Pirke Avot 2:17)

4. Better late or early than never with study and ritual. [On the first day of the month]… We should try to sync up our rituals with the events of history and tradition but, [Up to third hour] don’t get so bogged down on doing everything at exactly the right time for magical effect.  Do your best to do rituals at the right time but don’t let time be an excuse to not do them.

5. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said:Ein kemach ein torah, ein Torah ein kemach. If there is not food/sustenance then it is hard to really live out the values of Torah, if we don’t live out values of Torah then all of the food in the world will not sustain us. (Pirke Avot 3:21)

6. Leviticus says Love neighbor as self, but Hillel realized that we might not love ourselves so he added: what is hateful to you don’t do to another person.

7. Ben Zoma would say: B’eizehu:  Who is rich, one who is content with his lot, who is wise, one who learns from every person. (Pirke Avot 4:1)

8. Shammai would say:  Say little, do much cheerful countenance (Pirke Avot 1:15) [or] Jill, Sue and Ike teach smiling is contagious

9. Chesed v’rachamim lifnei kavodo:  Kindness and compassion should proceed our pursuit for honor (From text of El Adon}

10. Achalta, v’savata, u’verachta.  Eat, be satisfied and then bless/appreciate the source (human and Divine) of your food. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

11. Never let sun set on your anger (Wedding advice from Rabbi Richard Birnholz)

12. You shall be holy for I, your eternal G!d, am holy (Leviticus 19:1)

13. We get to place supposed to be when we are supposed to get there (Rabbi Michael Birnholz)

14. One only finds something we have lost when we stop looking for it (Rabbi Michael Birnholz


15. I set before you life and death, blessing and curse, choose lifeso that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30)

16. How awesome is this place, G!d in this place and I didn’t know it (Genesis 28)


17. Star Trek: Live long and prosper  [and] Star Wars: may the Force be with you.

18. Hillel says: If I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am for myself alone, what am I? (Pirke Avot 1:14)

19. Life is like a box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get. (Forest Gump)

20. Balance:  The world was created for my sake [and] I am but dust and ash ( Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Psischke)


Rabbi Micahel Birnholz