David Brooks, ethical wills, Jewish, Judaism, Moses, success, Torah, values, virtues
I was recently asked for a copy of my resume. This wouldn’t be odd except that I’ve announced that I’m retiring, not looking for a job.
I’m glad I don’t have to update my resume. It’s hard work. For a long time, you were expected to write a sentence at the top that summarized your best qualities and where you wanted to go in life. Essentially, an elevator speech that could convince someone to hire you right off the bat, without even reading the remainder of the resume.
The most important part of a resume is to stress your successes. But only a particular kind of success. It is exclusively success at work, not at life. And it must be quantifiable.
In his book “The Road to Character,“ David Brooks wrote about two sets of virtues. The first are the virtues of the resume. The second are the virtues of the eulogy. The two extremes are stark, but a helpful way to look at our own lives in retrospect.
It is true that a good eulogy includes an outline of the person’s life story and a bit of their resume. But to stop there leaves out the essence of the human being.
At the end of our lives — or even at our retirement — does it matter that we were successful employees? Is our legacy the ability to run a company, raise X number of dollars, supervise teams of staff, write a novel? Even people in the human-service professions are often asked about salary success rather than satisfaction or their impact on the lives of others.
Strangers may care about external successes, especially if our business prowess made a difference in the financial world. Levi Strauss is still remembered for his ability to make a fortune selling blue jeans.
Did you know that in addition to leaving a hefty estate, Strauss was Jewish and supported many charities, including special funds for orphans? Maybe not. But nearly a decade before his death, he founded The Levi Strauss Foundation that began by creating 28 college scholarships at the University of California. That’s a legacy that matters much more than blue jeans.
The things that we do to make the world a better place are worth remembering. So are the intangibles, the human stuff. When I sit with family members after a death, they seldom mention their loved one’s career or work life. They talk about humor. They remember time spent with friends and family, and hobbies and passions. And most of all they remember love, kindness, caring, being a good person.
This week’s Torah portion (Behatlacha) gives us a deeply human view of Moses the man, as he struggled with his job as leader of the children of Israel. In it, he faced several challenges, including that his father in law wanted to go back home to Midean. Moses clung to him, almost begging him to stay and help steer the people in the right direction.
Even with help from God, Moses realized that things weren’t going his way. The people grumbled about food yet again, and perhaps worst of all, his own siblings gossiped about his relationship with his wife.
And here the Torah paused in the narrative to tell us a eulogy virtue of this struggling yet successful leader, years before his eventual death. “Now Moses himself was very humble, more so than any other human being on earth.” (Numbers 12:3).
Not the kind of thing that one is likely to hear about a titan of industry, or a successful politician. Humility is so often seen as weakness. And yet, in Moses’ case his humility enabled him to face conflict, handle uprisings, and hold one-on-one, face-to-face conversations with God.
His humility is what makes him stand out, not his leadership skills. His humility is why we remember him as Moses rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, not Moses ha’nasi, Moses the prince.
Like Moses, we too have the opportunity to exercise our eulogy attributes, regardless of our age or stage in life. We can make sure that we live our lives in the way that we wish to be remembered.
I have achieved many things in my life, not least of which was ushering my community into a permanent sanctuary after 15 years of being merely renters in shared space. As a writer, I am proud that my work has appeared in several books, as well as regularly on the opinion pages of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
But those things are not what I want to be remembered for. I want to be remembered not as successful but as kind.
Not as influential but as caring.
Not as accomplished but that I did my best.
Not as a scholar, but as a mensch.
We don’t have to wait to tell the world what we’ve learned and how we tried to live our lives. Eulogy virtues aren’t only for eulogies. They are core values that we can express in many way during our lifetimes.
One tool that Judaism provides is the ethical will. It is a document that you can create at any point during your lifetime which makes no mention of possessions or property. Instead, it is meant to share the other riches that you have amassed; your wisdom, your hopes and dreams for yourself, your family, and the world, and what attributes and actions you most value.
Tell the people whom you love what’s important to you today, and what has been important to you during your lifetime. And don’t forget to tell them that you love them.
This essay is based on a sermon I gave at Congregation Kol HaNeshama.
Maureen Binderman said:
Oh, my, Jennifer……are you going to be missed!!! This new post of yours will be saved by many, many of your loving congregants!! Thank you! Thank you!
Sent from my iPad
SRQ Jew said:
You are so sweet! Thank you.
Jack Steenbarger said:
if only we could be that kind of person