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 The nature of people, especially as we grow older, is to think about our influence on the future, when we are freed from the bondage of the challenges and problems of this world. We all wish to live beyond the grave; that is part of our innate drive for immortality and eternity. Many try as hard as they can to believe that this world is all that we will experience and that, therefore, it is all that counts. However, there is a voice that resonates within us that denies this, pointing us towards a future that is unknown and uncertain but which, at the same time, we instinctively feel exists.

In the realm of the physical world and especially the world of material wealth, we deal with this unknown future through laws governing inheritance, estates, wills, trusts and other forms of legal protection. We wish that, even after we are gone. we could still in some way control our wealth and possessions, and that we should be the final arbiters how they should be distributed, and who will be the next owner.
The laws of the Torah are explicit: a person, once no longer alive, cannot and should not control the disposition of his or her property after death.  Over the centuries however, the rabbis have devised means, policies, documents, and ideas that, in effect, do allow the wishes and instructions of the deceased person to be followed and effectuated. It simply is not within the emotional part of human beings to let go of what one feels is rightfully his or hers. We therefore reserve for ourselves the right to instruct others how our property should be disposed of once we are no longer here.
A large section of Jewish law is devoted to inheritance. As any rabbi, lawyer or judge can testify, it is also an area of human behavior that is highly charged with emotion, conflict, and family and community dysfunction. It is not for naught that the Talmud recommended that, on leaving this world, one should leave nothing physical behind. Many times, the truth of this statement has become evident to me when I have witnessed the destruction of family ties because of disputes over inheritance caused by unexpected provisions in a person’s will.  Yet in our materialistic world, in which so many people own substantial assets, this is not an issue to be ignored. For this reason, one should certainly pursue a policy of doing whatever is possible while still alive, displaying as much wisdom, foresight, and compassion as possible when addressing the needs of future generations.
A person can leave both an inheritance and a legacy. “Legacy” implies here a way of life, advice on life choices, the formulation of an overarching vision that is meant not merely to instruct but to inspire. The Torah describes itself as a legacy, rather than as a mere inheritance that is meant to be passed on from one generation to the next: it is, in itself, a piece of eternity that is bestowed upon its recipients. Inheritances rarely survive for more than one or two generations at most. But a legacy is always present, a matter of vision and spirit, not subject to the deterioration or loss of value that time inevitably brings to all things physical.
Legacy is thus the most important thing an older generation can grant to its offspring: it is the true gift by grandparents to grand- and great-grandchildren. A legacy can be illustrated in the behavior, speech, attitudes, and conduct that the younger generation witnesses in the older one. Many times, the greatest conductor of legacy is the unspoken word, a careful gesture, a smile in a moment of adversity. No book of instructions or of laws, to my knowledge, details the transmission of legacy, even as there are many works that deal with inheritances. Yet, in the long run of life generally, and certainly family life, it is the transmission of legacy that truly counts and determines the future.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

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