In last week’s parsha of Chayei Sarah, one of the themes we encounter is how Avraham plans for the continuity of the Jewish people through his son, Yitzchak. The haftorah also deals with how King David planned for the continuity of his kingdom through his son, Shlomo.
Avraham took pains to ensure that his son, Yitzchak, would get married to the right sort of woman, Rivka, who would serve as matriarch of the Jewish nation. He also ensured that Yitzchak would continue with his faith and values. “Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchak,” (25:5). He did not necessarily only give him money and material things, but he gave his son his highly prized spiritual values as well. He gave his other sons gifts and sent them far away. Dovid Hamelech similarly ensured that his kingdom would not be usurped by his arrogant and ambitious son, Adoniyah. Instead, he made sure that Shlomo — the wise and devoted son — would be the one who succeeded him and carried on his mission.
Ethical wills were once popularly written by Jewish people. In addition to leaving a regular will distributing one’s personal property, an ethical will was written so that parents could summarize what they felt was important about their lifestyles and experiences. They could, then, pass along the wisdom of their traditions and values to the next generation. Reimer and Stampfer published a book, “So That Your Values Live On: Ethical Wills and How To Prepare Them,” with examples of ethical wills written by rabbis, poets and contemporary Jews.
“Iggeres Haramban” is a famous ethical will written by the Ramban (also known as Rabbi Moses ben Nachman Girondi) to his eldest son, Nachman, around the year 1270. The essence of his message was that humility and self-control can enable a person to achieve tranquility and peace of mind.
Proverbs (1:9) tells us, “Heed, my son, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the guidance of your mother.” This is an admonition to look to our parents and ancestors for guidance on maintaining positive character traits. Our sages taught, “Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom,” (Nedarim 22a). On the heels of humility comes the fear of Hashem (Proverbs 22:4). These are some of the examples of the values that we, often, wish to instill in our children.
Reimer and Stampfer state, “I have learned that if we don’t tell our children our stories and the stories of those from whom we come, no one else ever will. The stories will disappear and our kids will be deprived.” It is our duty as parents to pass along a spiritual inheritance, more so than simply leaving behind money and possessions once we are gone.
Many of us were named after grandparents or distant relatives. Some of us were named after relatives who perished during the Holocaust. How much do we really know about the people we were named for? Imagine what a precious gift it would have been, if those people had left behind a video or a letter telling us about their experiences and values. We, as their progeny, are able to continue the chain of tradition by carrying out the Jewish traditions and values they held so dear.
Avraham Avinu and Dovid Hamelech took action to make certain that they guaranteed the continuity of their Jewish values and places in history. Perhaps, we might start by setting an example for our children and grandchildren and do the same.
May Hashem bless us as we continue the link in our tradition and heritage. May we be able, like Avraham Avinu, to give our “all” to our children and those whose lives we are privileged to touch.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is past president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]