Inspired by the medieval tradition of the ethical will, forever letters are heartfelt letters we write to the people who matter to us with the hope that, even if our letters aren’t kept forever, the wisdom and love that we share will be.
How The Forever Letter Came To Be
The Forever Letter was inspired by the medieval tradition of an ethical will where parents would write to their children to pass on their values. They wrote with a sense of urgency, on the off chance that this was their last opportunity. In Hebrew, these ethical wills were originally known as tze-vah-oat, commandments, and some were even written in a commanding tone.
When I was 14, my father handed me an ethical will he had written to me and my siblings. It had a profound impact on me when I first read it, and it continues to impact me as the years move on. My father did not command his values; rather, he expressed his values and his love, and his weaknesses, and his hopes. What hooked me most was his vulnerability. He was more vulnerable than I had ever known him to be.
For years I spoke, taught, and offered workshops on the topic of ethical wills before I realized I was actually creating a new kind of letter in which we express what matters to us most to the people who matter to us most. That we ask ourselves these questions: what can we say to the people we love that they may treasure for a lifetime? What can we say about us? About them? And about the relationship we share?
Over the years, I have seen unresolved hurt in relationships and in families. I have seen family members and friends torn apart, no longer knowing why. I have seen people who don’t know the hearts of the people closest to them, and feel a sense of disconnectedness. I have also seen people who are close and connected, deeply appreciative of their mutual love and support. In all of these instances, I believe we can heal, uplift, and deepen our relationships through the writing of forever letters.
What Can You Write?
Accept responsibility for misunderstandings and hurts
Share personal stories
Ask for forgiveness and forgive
Express gratitude and love
Reflect humility, courage and vulnerability
You can write to your parents, children, siblings, other family members, friends, colleagues, teachers, students, mentors … anyone who matters to you.
An incentive can be a milestone for either you or the recipient like: falling in love; marrying; becoming a parent; receiving a job offer; graduating; reaching a special birthday; retiring. Life’s critical junctures offer another opportunity: divorcing; getting laid off; receiving a life-threatening diagnosis; living through the death of a loved one. And you need no incentive. You can write anytime. You can write now.
In my book, you will find guidance on how to increase your chances of being heard, and exercises to help you mine the deep place within where your authentic material lies. You will be able to read some forever letters, find stories of how writing and receiving forever letters were transformative, and be inspired to write your own.
“Elana Zaiman has a mission: She loves connection, deep and personal, and wants others to experience the sweet joy she has lived of shared truth-telling. Her forever letter embodies the passing on of wisdom, humbling experience, dreams, and love from one person to another. It is a beautiful concept that all of us should embrace.”
“The Forever Letter is an exceptional book. Rabbi Zaiman offers moving stories and profound insights that have the potential to enrich, even transform, your most important relationships. It’s a book to read and give to members of your family.”
“In her beautiful book, The Forever Letter, Elana breathes critical life back into the healing art of letters. With joy and insight, she shows us how to use the written word to heal our relationships and live with greater intention. It is the perfect gift for our hectic and frenzied hearts.”