Writing an Ethical Will with Rabbi Steve Leder

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It is true most of us have questions we wished we had asked of loved ones before they passed away: questions about what mattered most in their life, what gave their life meaning, what did they regret, what did they love and value, and what was their greatest challenge and how did they get through it. These are also the kind of questions that can be helpful in shedding light on our own deepest beliefs and dreams. Approaching and facing some of these essential questions and leaving them in a written document called an “ethical will” might be more important than any material things we pass on at our death. These are essential questions for leading a beautiful and meaningful life. Leder reminds us, “We can leave material possessions and money to our loved ones hoping somehow they will express [our] emotional and spiritual life…I often say to people that that is like handing our loved ones a picture of food. It will not sustain them, it will not enrich them, it will not nourish them, it will not comfort them. What they really want when we're gone are our values, our expressions of love, our guidance, our support, our life lessons that are hard won as the result of flaws and failure. They want our words…” Also, it's an MRI of your inner life that you can hold up to the light and say to yourself, “This is what my truth is and am I living it?” Here we explore how to write an “ethical will” for ourselves and for our loved ones. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms). 


Steve Leder is senior Rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. After receiving his degree in writing and graduating cum laude from Northwestern University, studying at Trinity College, Oxford University, Leder received a master’s degree in Hebrew letters in 1986 and rabbinical ordination in 1987 from Hebrew Union College.

Rabbi Steve Leder is the author of many books including: 

  • The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things (Behrman House 1999)
  • More Money Than God: Living A Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul (Volt Press 2003)
  • More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us (Hay House 2017)
  • The Beauty of What Remains (Avery 2021)
  • For You When I Am Gone: Twelve Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story

To learn more about the work of Rabbi Steve Leder go to www.steveleder.com

Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • What is an “ethical will”
  • Why words are real. They are concrete and have heft
  • What is the origin of the word abracadabra
  • Why does Leder suggest that the first question should be—what do I regret
  • Who helped Leder with words of encouragement to lead with his heart in his commitment to become a rabbi
  • What were the benefits of the “age wheel” circle and how was it set up
  • Why did Leder include the question: Did you ever cut someone out of your life
  • What is the significance of Schopenhauer’s thoughts on how an individual responds to the pain and suffering of another
  • How his dog Rosie was such an enormous comfort when he was ill
  • How the suggested questions are an exercise in essentialism
  • What is a suggestion as to how we might better relate to older people 

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 6/20/2022   Program Number: 3762

Music Playlist

From Album: Bloom Road
Artist: Dan Kennedy
2015 Mt. Pullux Music #MPM-003

Opening Essay: Track 01 Moonrise
Music Break 1: Track 02 Prayer for Janet
Music Break 2: Track 05 Beautiful Day (with You)
Music Break 3: Track 05 Beautiful Day (with You) (reprise)