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February 28, 1986 - Image 20

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-02-28

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20 Friday, February 28, 1986



Ethical Wills As Traditional Guidelines

Continued from Page 2

It may be traversing in extremes to
turn from a Holocaust sufferer to a
humorist. Yet they relate. Sam Levenson
also had faith and he willed it to his fam-
ily. Here is how he ethically bequeathed
his idealism to his grandchildren and fam-
I leave you my unpaid debts.
They are my greatest assets. Ev-
erything I own — I owe:
1. To America I owe a debt for
the opportunity it gave me to be
free and to be me.
2. To my parents I owe
America. They gave it to me and I
leave it to you. Take good care of
3. To the biblical tradition I
owe the belief that man does not
live by bread alone, nor does he
live alone at all. This is also the
democratic tradition. Preserve it.
4. To .the six million of my
people and to the thirty million
other humans who died because of
man's inhumanity to man, I owe a
vow that it must never happen
5. I leave you not everything I
never had, but everything I had in
my lifetime: a good family, respect
for learning, compassion for my
fellowman, and some four-letter
words for all occasions: words like
"help," "give," "care," "feel," and
Love, my dear grandchildren,
is easier to recommend than to de-
fine. I can tell you only that like
those who came before you, you
will surely know when love ain't;
you will also know when mercy
ain't and brotherhood ain't.
The millennium will come
when all the "ain'ts" shall have
become "ises" and all the "ises"
shall be for all, even for those you
don't like.
Finally, I leave you the years I
should like to have lived so that I
might possibly see whether your
generation will bring more love
and peace to the world than ours
did. I not only hope you will. I
pray that you will.
Grandpa Sam Levenson
Appended to the Levenson ethical
will in the volume presently under consid-
eration is this personal note about its
Sam Levenson was raised and
educated in New York. He taught
in New York City high schools for
15 years before making a suc-
cessful career as a humorist. He
became a beloved, nationally

Sam Levenson

known personality through his
books and appearances on radio
and television; he had his own
program, the "Sam Levenson
Show," on Columbia Broadcasting
System television. The major focus
of his humor was the family —
raising children and growing up
in an urban environment. Some of
his writings appear in textbooks
on urban sociology. It has been
said of his humor that it was of a
special kind: it sought laughter at
nobody's expense.

This personal annotation needs em-
phasis as a reminder that Sam Levenson
was an example for dignity, a humorist
who never sank to the low levels for which
some of his contemporaries became
famous. He was an entertainer who was
always highleveled and will always be
remembered for it.
Many notables are represented in the
impressive new collection of ethical wills:
Sholem Aleichem, Chaim Greenberg,
Theodor Herzl, Baron Edmond Rothschild
and a number of religious scholars and
Chasidic luminaries.
For a total appreciation of the value of
the Tzavaot, of the ethical wills in Jewish
tradition, it is especially instructive to
learn from Dr. Philip Birnbaum's Book of
Jewish Concepts. There is always much to
learn from Rabbi Birnbaum and his schol-
arly definitions. Here is his Tzavaot defi-
Last wills disposing of prop-
erty used to be uncommon among
the Jewish people, because inheri-
tance was for the most part regu-
lated by the traditional law, pro-
viding a double share for the
firstborn son and equal shares for
all the other sons. On the other
hand, Jewish literature has been
greatly enriched iss, a considera-
ble variety of ethical wills that
convey a genuine picture of life
and ideals of the times in which
they were written. Long after their
death, great Jews began to pre-
pare their instructions to their de-
scendants, revising them from
time to time, until their composi-
tions finally emerged as finished
ethical dissertations.
One of the earliest ethical wills
is to be found in the book of Tobit,
the earliest of all the books of the
Apocrypha, which introduces the
reader to the kind of home
wherein the Jew lived more than
two thousand years ago. Here are
enshrined the high ideals of the

Jewish people as to the purity of
family life and the duty of kind-
ness to the poor. Several quota-
tions from Tobit are:
"My son, do not neglect, your
mother; provide for her as long as
you live; try to please her; do not
be a cause of grief to her. Re-
member that she faced many dan-
gers for your sake. You will suc-
ceed in life if you are truthful. God
will not ignore you if you do not
ignore the poor. Do not do to any-
one else that which is hateful to
The Testaments of the Twelve
Patriarchs, belonging to the
apocalyptic literature of the Sec-
ond Temple period, are repre-
sented as the last instructions of
the twelve sons of Jacob. Each in
turn asks his descendants to emu-
late his virtues and shun his vices.
The following are a few excerpts
from the instructions that are pro-
fessedly addressed to the descen-
dants of the sons of Jacob:
"My children, pay no heed to
the beauty of lewd women. Be-
ware of deceit and envy. Work di-
ligently and acquire wisdom. Lead
a life of sincerity. Have pity on the
poor and the weak. Be compas-
sionate toward all persons and
animals. Anger is blind and does
not permit one to see the face of
another as it really is. Do not be-
come aggry when someone speaks
against you; do not become vain
when you are praised. Speak the
truth to your neighbor, and love
each other with a true heart.
Hatred is evil; it makes small
things appear great. Put envy out
of your souls, and love one an-
other with singleness of heart. Be

patient with one another's faults
and overlook them. A good man
shows mercy to everyone, even to
sinners. He is neither envious nor
jealous of others, but rejoices al-
ways in their good fortune ..."
During the Middle Ages, as
well as during the early talmudic
period, the spiritual leaders of Is-
rael left ethical wills in a similar
vein that had a marked influence
on the development of Jewish life
and thought. Rabbi Judah ibn
Tibbon of Twelfth-Century Spain
"My son, ability is of no avail
without inclination. Exert yourself
while still young. Take good care
of your health; do not be your own
destroyer. Honor your wife to
your utmost capacity. If you give
orders, let your words be gentle.
All I ask of you is to behave in a
friendly spirit toward all; to gain a
good name; to revere God and per-
form his commandments.
"Devote yourself to your chil-
dren; be not indifferent to any
slight ailment in them or in your-
self. Never refuse to lend books to
anyone who can be trusted to re-
turn them. Honor your teachers
and attach yourself to your
friends. My son, make your books
your companions. Let your
shelves be your treasure grounds
and gardens ..."
Such are the enrichments provided by
tradition and pursued in modernity. Faith
and the lessons demanded by a good con-
science, scholarship and appreciation of
historic lessons, are provided in the mes-
sages passed on to the generations. These
are lessons for learning and ethical codes
to be passed on to the generations.

Religio us News Serv ice

others and wherein lies the secret
of our existence on earth?
Knowing this, will your heart
still be heavy, my child? Will you
still say you cannot stand your
fate? But you must, my child, for
so were you commanded; it is your
calling. This is your mission, your
purpose on earth.
You must go to work
alongside people of other nations
... and you will teach them that
they must come to a brotherhood
of nations and to a union of all na-
tions with God.
You may ask, "How does one
speak to them?" This is how:
"Thou shalt not murder; thou
shalt not steal; thou shalt not
covet; love thy neighbor as thyself
." Do these things and through
their merit, my child, you will be

Avital and Anatoly Shcharansky are shown in the kitchen of their temporary apartment
in Jerusalem this month, before the couple went into seclusion.

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