An “ethical will” is a statement of values and/or a spiritual accounting of your life written just before you die. In it, you might construct a teleological narrative of your life — a thumbnail sketch of what your life really stands for after all, what matters to you most.
An ethical will is addressed to someone left behind —usually the writer’s children, maybe a spouse or relative or friend, sometimes just the anonymous, caring world. It is a torch passed on. Ethical wills are an exquisite, forgotten Jewish tradition, a crucial counterpart to the conventional will dealing only with material accounts.
The following wills are excerpted from So That Your Values Live On, edited by Jack Riemer and Nathaniel Stampfer (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1991), a book that reproduces dozens of wills (many belonging to women) throughout Jewish history.