What more can I say than has already been said? In law there is a phrase “res ipsa loquitur”, the thing speaks for itself. Such was her life. What a woman, what a person, what a visionary, what a blessing, what a legacy. No words are needed to describe her for her life by how she lived speaks for itself. A life of valor.
As I was participating in Erev Rosh Hashanah services last Friday, the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death came over my cell phone. Normally, it would be turned off. In these days of Covid, however, as president of Ruach sometimes Rabbi Nathan and I need to text during services so my cell phone is left on just in case. I have to say that her death occurring during these most holy days, and the news for some of us, right during these services, seemed significant. In Midrash it is said that a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness. So she was.
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt who officiated at the memorial service referred to Justice Ginsburg as a prophet, perhaps not as we think of such, but in this sense. Justice Ginsburg was born into a world that didn’t see her, with no clear path for opportunity and yet she could see a world beyond the one she was in. She could imagine a different world, one more just for all. Rabbi Holtzblatt goes on to say that Justice Ginsburg was the rare prophet who not only imagined a new world but made that world a reality in her lifetime.
Crazy times have existed throughout history. Perhaps for me, at least during my lifetime, these current days seem more indicative of deep societal unrest than even during the confrontations of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, more extensive, deeper rifts, more adversely opinionated in some cases. It is not just the radical discourses and daily confrontations, but also, the continuing divisiveness of our country seemingly as a whole. I’m sure all of us have experienced conflict within various groups we have joined or are a part of – families, clubs, communities – and we know there is nothing more destructive to loving relationships and unity than continual conflict exacerbated by the inability to see, hear, and understand the opposing viewpoint. Working out differences is a challenge for any group, let alone for our geographically dispersed and multicultural country. Healing of the huge schism dividing our polarized society requires voices of reason, understanding, and a willingness to work together for a greater good.
Some would say these adverse times are good. They’re a wake up call. The coronavirus did us a favor to be a catalyst for change. I’m not commenting on all the theories.
Just one – we are put on this earth to love each other as ourself. Justice Ginsburg wrote some dissenting opinions, but also joined in many majority and concurring ones as well. Her body of work had the effect of bringing a voice to many previously kept silent. Her mantra was the importance of social justice. She knew how to work with others who have different opinions – with respect, sometimes deference, and yet steadfastness to the truths she believed. She knew how to love others in her work, to honor opposing opinions, at times adjust her own, and very often push for change. It is a gift to be able to do so with love and respect for the other. Had she not, she would not have been as successful in having others agree with her positions. Her colleagues admired and respected her, the result of the nurturing of relationships she treasured within her Supreme Court family.
She was just one person. Supreme Court justices work together to produce opinions of the highest court that determine laws for our entire nation, that are a reflection of our societal values. They must work through the tough issues knowledgeably, respectfully, as they strive to create a better, more just world. Only with respectful interactions with her colleagues was Justice Ginsburg able to persuade them to agree with the many changes she championed. The way entrenched opinions get changed is through meaningful, respectful, knowledgeable, persuasive, insightful discussion. Sadly, none of those adjectives apply to our polarized America today on some of our most important societal issues needing collaboration for meaningful results that will move our society forward. Voices of change are welcomed, even during times of upheaval, but those voices need to be tempered and designed to inspire meaningful dialogue.
I don’t know how all of the political issues will be resolved. Yet I had a thought that I’ll share. . .
When I heard of Justice Ginsburg’s death, at such a holy time, it felt as if her being taken then was as a sacrifice to a greater cause. She had battled cancer for so many years, and yet, her death occurred during the time of these holy services. Perhaps her death, the supreme sacrifice we can make as humans, coming just before the election will remind people of bigger truths. Perhaps if her dying wish is not honored, it will help more people to take interest in voting. Perhaps hearing of her life serving justice will resonate with others as a reminder of how we can try to live our lives at a higher level, lives of service to others. We so need reminders of higher purposes these days.
You don’t have to be a Supreme Court Justice, or a special person such as Justice Ginsburg, to make a difference in this world. You can do so just by following her example – live lovingly, with integrity for the truth even when you have to be steadfast to be heard, be perseverant, listen respectfully to others with whom you don’t agree, work toward consensus, for only together will we really be able to make the hard changes, the most meaningful ones.
Justice Ginsburg, may the example of your life, and your memory, be a blessing to all.