Where There’s a Will There’s a Way


By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Wills.  It’s a touchy subject.  Conjuring up thoughts of all types of sometimes unsavory topics.  Mortality.  Family feuds over inheritances.  Financial repercussions.  Worry about the future.  And that’s just a sampling.  Perhaps for that reason, many people push off the endeavor of writing a will until much later in life.  We just don’t like thinking about these things.  However, both Rabbanim and legal professionals alike issue occasional warnings that it is very ill advised to sweep this matter under the rug.  No-one wants some bank or government agency deciding what should be done with his or her assets or estate after 120, and sometimes “120” can come suddenly.  Equally, or perhaps much more so, no-one wants their progeny to become mortal enemies for the rest of their lives resultant of ferocious disagreement in terms of who gets what.  It really is very important for everyone to ensure that they have a will that will be as clear as it is fully binding, both in Beis Din and l’havdil the secular courts.

Interestingly enough, my father recently related to me that he always tells the people involved with adjusting his will from time to time that “I will never like my will.”  Why?  Well there’s a story behind that.  “Your grandfather,” my father told me, “would adjust his will from time to time over the years.  It was never drafted in a way that he felt fully comfortable with it.  ‘It’s just not quite right,’ he would say; ‘I don’t like it.’  This was something I heard him say many times over the years.  Except for the last time he adjusted it.  That was when he was eighty years and seven months old.  For some reason, he finally liked his will.  He felt it was just right.  And he said so.  Six months later he died.  That is why,” my father concluded, “I tell people that I will never like my will!”

Now, spookiness aside, I think that there may be an eye-opening concept expressed in this vignette.

A will is more than a person’s pragmatic way of ensuring that he doesn’t leave chaos in the wake of his exit from this world.  Chazal tell us, “bra kar’ah d’avuha, children are the continuity of their parents.” Will is short for last will and testament.  We Jews call it a tzavaah: the final, parting instructions that we transmit to our loved ones to whom we are passing on the torch of life.  Even the money aspect of it is not just about money.  From a Torah perspective, money is not merely a means of obtaining one’s desires.  One’s possessions comprise an integral facet of one’s being[1].  Money is a tool of functioning, it is a vehicle which enables a great deal of self-expression.  It is not for naught that Chazal tell us that one of the primary ways by which the character of a person can be determined is by how he deals with his money.  The combination of the ethical and the fiscal into one document called a will is not coincidental.  As the sun of a person’s life sets, he wants to ensure that everything his life stood for and that he accomplished will have a fitting continuity.  Both in terms of the life-functioning tools and systems that he amassed and developed, and the moral principles by which he lived.

Writing a will, then, is like writing the sum-total of your life.  The summarized and distilled expression of what you accomplished, what you lived for, and what you are thus passing on to the next generation.  No wonder, then, that one may just not feel perfectly comfortable with what’s written there until it really is time for him to go.

Because he is not yet finished.

If you stop to think about it, life is very much a never-ending attempt at getting things “just right”.  Picture-perfect, if you will.  Whether our focus is on the home, the job, our kids’ education, or our learning and davening, there is never a point (at least for most people) that we feel, “Ah, just right!”  Even when we do occasionally experience such moments, they are inevitably fleeting in nature.  In but a blink of an eye, that “just right” sensation gives way to the sometimes-assaulting awareness of some other area that is still in need of correction or improvement.

Now, this phenomenon has the potential of arousing an abiding undercurrent of bitterness and resentment, even if somewhat on the dormant, unconscious side.  “When is my life ever going to be the way I want it to be?!  When will I finally be able to have patience with my spouse and children?  When will my job situation finally suit me properly and produce the income that I really need?  Am I ever going to achieve the fitness that I want?  When is my davening finally going to be what it should be?  I’ve been trying to get a real knowledge of halacha for so many years, and it just seems to be forever elusive!”  And the list goes on.  Unlike cows, sheep, and deer, we human beings are hard-wired to be restless.  Always yearning and striving for more.  Characters of ambition are we.And the perpetual disappointments can be awfully frustrating.

That is, unless we recognize that, really, that’s what life is all about.

It is only natural that one will never be truly happy with the last will and testament that condenses and encapsulates the sum-total of his life, until he has completed that which the document is meant to convey and pass on.  So too is it only natural that one will never feel fully satisfied and content with life, so long as he is still living it.  Becausethat is what life is all about: a process of learning, yearning, and growing.  By integrating this awareness into our conscious thinking, our frustrationat life’s endless need for fixing and improving all but disappears.  Instead,we become empowered to embrace this process as that which makes life worth living.

[1] See the pirush of the Gra on Megillas Esther 3:13

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