I have a habit of calling my dad on Friday afternoons. In my mind, it’s my “pre-Shabbat” ritual of connecting with him, but in truth, it’s due to more practical reasons. Mom is at bridge and it’s the only time he can get a word in edgewise.
The conversation is often about the week’s concerns – the fax machine that won’t work, the check he can’t find that he is convinced mom threw in the garbage, the challenges and limitations of approaching his 99th year. Our “go-to” topic is often the stock market. Grateful for years of investment ideas and advice, I never mind talking about puts and calls. But in between option chains and sell prices, I am often treated to a pearl from dad’s treasure chest of wisdom.
Growing up, I often felt the “heavy hand” of dad as he did his best to guide me into directions he believed were in my best interest. Conversations often felt like ultimatums as we navigated the adolescent years. Thankfully, as I matured, so did my ability to accept his well-meaning advice as an act of love, not control, and we became great friends as a result.
Over the years, I have noticed a huge shift in dad’s approach to our family as he has morphed from Heavy Hammer to Velvet Glove. And one Friday afternoon, I asked him about it because I really wanted to know if he had made an intentional decision to become less assertive, less inclined to offer advice, less desirous of controlling the ultimate outcome regarding the choices that his family made.
His answer surprised me. At one year shy of 100 years of age, the man I have looked up to as larger than life since I was a little girl, confessed to feeling less certain that he had the answers or even that he remained relevant in our face-paced, millennial-driven world.
And it occurred to me then, that if we are inclined to look back at our life in search of our own relevancy, we may come up short by today’s standards. Our worth may not lay in our past, but rather, in the future, long-term impact we can have on the people, communities and environment we love and care about.
The idea that we can have an impact on the future is found in the final chapter of the Book of Genesis in V’Yechi – which means: “And he lived.” Jacob is 147 years old, on his deathbed, and calls for his son Joseph to come to his bedside. Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Jacob blesses Joseph, then his grandsons, saying that the God he has believed in all his life, who guided his father, Isaac and his grandfather Abraham, will bless these two boys and from them will come “teeming multitudes” to fill the earth.
After blessing his grandsons, Jacob calls each of his 11 sons to him, one at a time, blessing them and also cautioning and guiding them about their futures. Here lies the origins of the ethical will and the idea that we can have a profound impact on future generations by the actions we take up to the moment of death.
Perhaps the best way to measure our relevancy is to ask ourselves today how we can best impact the people and things we care about once we are no longer here. What steps can we take to provide for the communities and causes about which we are most passionate? What role can we play in solving long-term problems? How can we leave the world knowing that our efforts will be sustained after we are gone? Can we inspire others to do the same?
Creating a meaningful legacy is not a difficult prospect, but it takes time, reflections and intention. You need not have a big bank account or estate to do so. A simple gift of a percentage of a life insurance contract, retirement or other account can serve to fund your legacy plan. The Jewish community has multiple resources and a myriad of opportunities to establish meaningful and relevant giving that will preserve a future that you can feel a part of long after you are gone.
The future is a verb, not a noun. The steps we take during our lifetime to protect and sustain the values, causes and ideals we cherish can create an ethical relevancy that will live far beyond our lifetimes.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman has written more than 300 columns and essays that have been published nationwide. amyhirshberglederman.com