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Light and Legacy

Life insurance is frequently used for legacy planning. At the time of your death, a significant sum of money is made available for the beneficiary to carry on your legacy.

What, exactly, does that job entail? We can start with a definition from the dictionary:

leg•a•cy (lg-s); n. pl. leg•a•cies

  1. Money or property bequeathed to another by will.
  2. Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past: a legacy of religious freedom. See Synonyms at heritage.

Synonyms: heritage, inheritance, legacy, tradition
These nouns denote something immaterial, such as a custom, that is passed from one generation to another: a heritage of moral uprightness; a rich inheritance of storytelling; a legacy of philosophical thought; the tradition of noblesse oblige.

With a legacy, something you stand for – something that you carried on from your family, or from your people – is passed on to the next generation. These practices sustain our loved ones and enable them to give their lives meaning. They help us leave our mark on the world, to make our own unique contribution to the common culture.

It is important to note that the life insurance benefit is a means to an end here, not an end unto itself. The $100,000 or $1million or $10million you bequeath to your children or grandchildren, is merely “fuel for the fire”. They must already be inspired to “carry the torch”. Otherwise, odds are they will drop it.

What can we do to secure the family heritage? How do we encourage our progeny to take the lead?

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is one of the premier social philosophers and moralists of our age. He serves as the current Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. He offers tremendous insights into how we lead others:

“There are two forms or dimensions of leadership. One is power, the other, influence. Often we confuse the two. After all, those who have power often have influence, and those who have influence have a certain kind of power. In fact, however, the two are quite different, even opposites.”

“We can see this by a simple thought-experiment. Imagine you have total power, and then you decide to share it with nine others. You now have one-tenth of the power with which you began. Imagine, by contrast, that you have a certain measure of influence, and now you share it with nine others. How much do you have left? Not less. In fact, more. Initially there was only one of you; now there are ten. Your influence has spread. Power operates by division, influence by multiplication. With power, the more we share, the less we have. With influence, the more we share, the more we have.”

Rabbi Sacks goes on to describe how kings have power, but prophets have influence. Kings must be alive to govern, to defend the country, and to prevent lawlessness. When they die, their power ends. Not so with prophets: when they die, their influence begins! And it persists through time.(1)

Parents are “kings” for a small amount of time. While our children are minors, they fall under our jurisdiction. They are our responsibility. But they grow up quickly, and in no time at all become adults, ready to start their own little “kingdoms”. At that point parents become prophets, of a sort. It is really a role we have always had, but it becomes more apparent when our children achieve independence. Our primary job is always to assert our influence, so that our values and vision can light the way for others. They, in turn, inspire still others with their own light, so that the sum total of light is increased.

Under the proper influence, the inheritance keeps the family legacy alive, like a candle feeds a flame, and keeps it alive for others to see the way.

(1) Sacks, Rabbi Lord. “COVENANT & CONVERSATION: Korach – Power vs. Influence.” Office of the Chief Rabbi. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2013. .