Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rabbi Sonsino: My Ethical Will

Rabbi Sonsino
Ever since our patriarch Jacob allegedly gathered his children to tell them about their future (see Gen. 49), many people have written ethical wills in which they identified not their assets but their most cherished values for their progeny. A number of these ethical wills written by Jews have been published as part of the literary genre called “Hebrew Ethical Wills.” Now that I still have my faculties intact, I wish to follow this example by putting down on paper those moral teachings that have guided me so far. So, in no particular order, here are my ten recommendations (a more personalized version was already written for my children):

1.  Identity:
I was born in Turkey and grew up in Istanbul. I am grateful for my Turkish heritage but I am also a proud Jew, and lived as such since 1938 when I was born. I came to the USA in 1961.

I believe it is important to have a strong identity. For those of us who live in the States, that means having a strong American as well as a Jewish identity. Support the State of Israel and Jews everywhere else. Try to visit the land of our ancestors at least once every ten years. Be a knowledgeable Jew.

2.  Kindness and integrity:

The Bible tells us that human beings are created “in the image of the divine” (Gen.1: 27) representing the best and the highest we know. Be a caring individual. Learn how to empathize in life, and try to feel other people’s joys and pains. Treat other human beings with dignity. Do not raise false expectations for them, and do not resort to violence. Yet, learn how to protect yourselves. Forgive your enemies but do not forget their name.    

3.  Good Name:
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes says, “A good name is better than fragrant oil”(7: 11). In dealing with others, your reputation must be impeccable. If you lose it once, you lose it forever. Be on time, look clean and neat, and try to make a good impression when you meet someone, for its impact remains a long time.  

4.  Family:
Cherish your spouses. Do not take them for granted. As  years go by, learn how to grow old together, accepting with grace all the changes that will occur with you and your mate. Be prepared to sacrifice for your children. After all, your family is your greatest responsibility and your proudest legacy.

5.  Education:
Pursue general education and not job training. Read regularly, keep abreast of what is going on in the world, enjoy a good concert, an inspiring opera, a good theater. To the extent that you can afford it, try to travel around the country and the world. Have a wider perspective in life, and forgo judging things in black and white. Real life occurs within the grays.

6.  Your job:
Enjoy what you are doing. Work hard at your profession. Try to be the best, but don’t allow your job to define you. Get a hobby. Take calculated risks. Otherwise you get stuck in life.

7.  Truth vs. Peace:
Pursue truth, but give peace a priority. For the sake of sh’lom bayit (“peace at home”), be prepared to bend the truth a bit. It will save your marriage, your job and your relationship with the rest of your family and friends.

8.  Exercise:

Do not abuse your bodies or mind. You need them both in good shape. Make time to exercise regularly. Do not use drugs; do not smoke or get drunk. Pursue a path of moderation, and avoid all excesses.

9.  Way of Life:
Do not make the pursuit of happiness your life’s goal. Happiness is only a by-product. Live within your own means. Learn to be content, and be satisfied with what you have. There is no end to wanting more.

10.  One Life:
It is the realization that our days on earth are limited that infuses our life with meaning and purpose. We need to learn how to give up longevity for the sake of intensity. Learn how to enjoy the goodness of life, and try to live it fully and creatively, giving gratitude to God for who you are and what you have.

Rifat Sonsino

Jan. 2013

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