"Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow."
— Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are some of the most complicated days of the Jewish year. It is a time of standing between the joy and sweetness of welcoming the new year and the solemnity of Yom Kippur, a day of judgement. During this time, many Jews reflect on the past year and engage in the work of teshuva – repentance and recalibration with others, with God, and with oneself. This year, this meaningful work is happening in the shadow of a monumental event, the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We are watching as a Jewish woman makes history, again, proud of her and mourning our loss all at once.
This week’s Torah portion, Ha’azinu, is the penultimate reading in the annual Torah reading cycle. Moses recites a poem to the Israelites, voicing his discontent with the people and issuing a final reminder to follow the laws given by God. After Moses recites this poem, God speaks to him and tells him he will die on Mount Nebo, viewing the land from a distance, never to enter it. Moses’ critical view of the people will have a lasting impact on the Israelites, carrying them forward as a nation as they enter the Land of Israel. They are words we read every year, reminding us of the fragility of time and the pain of working hard to build something that may not be realized in one’s lifetime.
Our country stands in a liminal moment, leaders poised to make difficult and contentious decisions. In this fraught climate, our charge for the new year, 5781, is to live out Justice Ginsburg’s example of “writing for tomorrow.” Even as we respond in real time to the political and emotional repercussions of the death of one American Jewry’s greatest heroes, while simultaneously heeding the urgent imperatives of repentance and return, we must keep the long view in mind. Regardless of the prevailing winds, we best honor Justice Ginsburg’s life by continuing to fight for that which we believe will ensure a more just, humane future.
May the memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg be a blessing. May her legacy inspire us and ignite us toward change.