“Legacy Shabbat” -4 April 2014-Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, Congregation P’nai Tikvah. An old Jew was sitting in shul one Shabbat.
He was praying, “Dear G-d. Let me win the lottery just once. It would make me so very happy. There’s so much I could do with the money, oy!”
The next week, he was back again. “Dear G-d. It’s me again. I’m the guy who last Shabbos asked you to let me win the lottery. I have kept all the commandments and performed all the mitzvahs. Just this once, could I maybe win the lottery, please?”
He was back the following week. “Gottenu, I have to confess, I’m getting a little annoyed. Here I am, a pious and prayerful Jew, who goes to shul regularly and does everything he is supposed to do. Why won’t you grant me this one favor and allow me to win the lottery?!”
Just then, there was a loud clap of thunder, the roof of the shul rolled back, a bright light descended on the old fellow, and a deep voice boomed out: “Solly, Solly….meet me halfway: Buy a ticket!”
An old joke…but one that gets us to thinking. What would we do if we won the lottery? Tonight, I’d like this to be interactive, so share your thoughts…..
Great ideas….and, of course, the odds, in this great city of odds and chances, are totally against any one of us winning the lottery; but, this evening, I’d like us to give some thought to what we can do with what we have…What is really important to each of us, and what do we want our legacy to be…
Winston Churchill famously said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” And I know that within this holy community, even those with the most meager income, have taken it upon themselves to do the mitzvah of tzedakah as often as possible; but what I’m talking about is even beyond the here and now…I’m talking about thinking and planning and committing to what might be our legacy for the future of the Jewish community of Las Vegas.
Lest we be overwhelmed with the concept, let me remind you of another old story from the Talmud (Taanit 23a), wherein Rabbi Yochanan speaks of a righteous man, named Honi. One day he was journeying on the road and he sees a man planting a carob tree; he asks him, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replies: “Seventy years.” Honi gently asks the man, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replies: “I have found ready-grown carob trees in the world; as my ancestors planted them for me, so I, too, plant these for my children.”
Each of us has the opportunity, and, I would add, imperative, to leave a legacy. A legacy can come in many forms, but, in general, it is something (good or bad) that is passed on from one generation to the next. We like to think of it in terms of the positive accomplishments of our life, for which we will be remembered, and the benefits that may remain, long after we are gone from this world. While, there is a sense that one can live on through ones legacy, I would like to think in even loftier terms, for, according to tradition, as a person’s legacy is recalled on earth, so it is also recalled in Heaven…and a good legacy reflects as good PR for G-d, Torah, and mitzvot.
This month, there is a cross-communal initiative to have each synagogue designate one Shabbat as “Legacy Shabbat”. (Had we been meeting next week, on Shabbat HaGadol…the Shabbat immediately preceding Pesach, when the hearts of the children return to their parents and the hearts of the parents return to their offspring, this discussion might have been even more powerful….but we’re close enough to Pesach to take the subject matter to heart, I believe. The Passover story consistently refers to intergenerational responsibilities. “V’higaddeta l’vin-cha”/and you shall tell your children is the theme that spawned the Haggadah, the “telling” of the story. The seder itself invokes memories of sederim past and we can’t escape remembering what our parents did….or did not….do or say. Whether we knew it or not, our child’s eye was taking a virtual video of what transpired, and to this day, we simply flip the play-back button in our memories to recall how our parents faced their challenges…
Our parents, knowingly or unknowingly, pass their baggage on to us. Hopefully it is not the negative emotional baggage, but that which would help us grow and mature. The Wise child says, “Count me in. Let me keep your legacy alive.” Let me learn from you and pass this on to those who are important to me, even those who will come after me.” Of course , the wicked one, by excluding himself opts out of the community, past, present, and, unfortunately, future.
The simple son understand on a simple level: G-d took us out of our narrow places; and we, created in the essence of G-d, need to do likewise.
And the one who doesn’t even know how to ask, needs us to let him know: “We are making plans to provide for the future, because of what has been given to us in our lifetime.”
Thinking about creating ones legacy for the future is not easy. Those who are on severely restricted incomes may feel that they cannot create a legacy, cannot help the community, as they feel barely able to help themselves. In his Mishneh Torah, 10:2, (Maimonides taught: “A person has never become poor from giving Tzedakah and there is no bad aspect to it and Tzedakah has never brought harm as it says, and the act of Tzedakah is peaceful. And all who are compassionate toward others, they are compassionate in return as it says, and you are bestowed with compassion and compassion will befall you greatly.”
Surely, the lessons you’ve taught your children, family, friends, are a part of your legacy. If you have written a living will, you have concretized your philosophy and documented your philosophy on life for future generations. If you haven’t written a living will, I will be happy to meet with you and help you get started. That’s a part of your legacy. If you continue to support your favorite charities, that, too, is part of your legacy. The Foundation created by the Jewish Federation makes it not only easy to perpetuate your legacy, but gives you recognition for thinking towards the future. Here again, I can help you fill out a simple letter of intent, stating that you intend to bequeath something (and you don’t even have to determine what amount, small or grand) to your favorite Jewish institutions. (They need to be 501c3, however, to be certain that whatever bequest you leave will be properly used.) You could say you wish to give to several institutions (and, g’valt, what a mitzvah it would be to consider Congregation P’nai Tikvah in that mix), but there are so many—-Federation, Hadassah, JFSA, Jewish Educational institutions—-there are so many organizations whose future can be more guaranteed because of the legacy you can give.
We all know of philanthropists, on all levels, whose legacy lives on because of that which they invested into our community for the future. “Give ‘til it feels good,” was the watchword of Henry and Julie Mizrachi Halpern who helped endow the River Garden Hebrew Home in Jacksonville, Florida. The Olin, Sang, and Ruby families legacy lives on in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, because of their investment in summer camping for Jewish kids. We merely have to look around town, here in Las Vegas, to see the names of those who invested in our future. Some were very wealthy, of course, but many were not.
The act of creating a legacy is very empowering. It enables you to continue to complete the work of your heart. It brings peace and satisfaction in knowing that as our ancestors planted for us, so we plant for the future of our community.
If you would like a confidential discussion regarding your will or legacy, I am happy to meet with you or arrange a meeting with you and a professional from the Jewish Federation to assist you. First step, however, is to consider the charities/institutions to whom you might like to consider leaving something in your will; the second step is documenting those desires, through an actual will. The third step is to sign a “letter of intent”…a non-binding, non-restrictive declaration that lets the Federation document that you wish to leave a legacy to help whatever Jewish communal institutions you designate. I have such documents in my office and would be happy to share them with you. The fourth step is to let your family know your desires.
That, too, is a legacy…as your family will learn by your example.
None of us may receive the windfall of winning the lottery; but the legacy we leave for the future may be the winning ticket for the viability of the institutions we hold dearest.
As we go into the Pesach season, Z’man Cheiruteinu, the season of our redemption, let us remember that we are free to participate in the viability of our holy community now and free to contemplate what our Jewish legacy will be for the future. But, lest we become the very Pharaoh from whom our ancestors fled, we cannot harden our hearts and remain indifferent.
4 April 2014
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz,
Congregation P’nai Tikvah