Ethical Wills
an initiative of


Sarah Ruth Baker

By Sarah Baker

Dear family and friends:

Ethical wills are a traditional Jewish way to pass on values and life lessons. I only learned about ethical wills recently, but when I heard about them I knew I wanted to make one! Ethical wills began as letters parents wrote and put away for their children in case they died before their children reached adulthood, so they could continue to provide moral instruction and life wisdom even after death. Thankfully, I have lived to see my children grow into wonderful, loving adults and they--like the rest of you--know me and my values pretty well as I have never exactly been quiet about what I think. Still, writing this has given me some new insights, so here I go.

In preparing to write this, I made a timeline of important events in my life and thought about questions that were meant to help me articulate and describe a legacy. You can imagine how surprised I was to find my answers were pretty ordinary: marrying John, becoming Anna's mother and Lilly's grandmother. Here I am, someone who believes in social change, highlighting social conventions! That realization led me to these thoughts:

These were good choices for me, but I don't view them as normative or necessarily for everyone. I have been part of an amazing community of friends who made other choices, like devoting their lives to art, advocacy or service, and I love how our different lives weave together. What matters is not to waste the precious life you are given.

Even conventional choices take work to maintain. There are some roadmaps available for being a spouse and being a parent, but even these aren't one-size-fits-all, either. Really, what I have found is that being a thinking, healthy, caring human being no matter what you do requires discipline, creativity and above all love: love for yourself, for your family and your world.

My choices also resonate with Jewish values. Jewish values were part of the legacy I received from family, and I have tried to live them in my own way: mindful of where they come from and where we need to take them. On Anna's bat mitzvah I chose a tree of life design for the tallit because that is what I wanted us to be that day: a tree of life extending back for centuries and forward into the future. And we were; we always are.

I felt similarly the day we marched for women's rights in DC, three generations together, men and women, old and young. That attention to making a better world is very Jewish, but it is also part of being an American and not taking freedoms for granted. Please don't take them for granted, and always look at the world both as it is and as it could be.

We don't know when our own tree of life will be cut down or compromised. Having survived breast cancer, I know that only too well. My financial, medical and legal papers are all in order and yet there are things I may have forgotten to tell you or not emphasized enough; ethical wills are about that, too. You have all enhanced my life and I hope I have contributed to yours. I hope I have not offended you and ask forgiveness if I have. I love you all, and want to thank you. Blessings --

                                       Sarah Ruth

Sarah Ruth Baker
Ethical Will
Sarah Ruth Baker
Ethical Will