It was told about Reb Zusha. When he was laying on his deathbed, surrounded by his disciples.
He was crying and no one could comfort him.
One student asked him: “Reb Zusha, "Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham."
Reb Zusha answered, "When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Court, they won't ask me, 'Zusha, why weren't you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,' rather, they will ask me, 'Zusha, why weren't you Zusha?' Why didn't I fulfill my potential, why didn't I follow the path that could have been mine."
The question I ask myself every year during this season is: Natan, were you Natan this past year?
What does it mean for us to be ourselves?
Before I start planning ahead to the next year, I need to evaluate: Where am I right now? Who am I right now?
This past year was not easy. Doing this diligent process of self-evaluation over the past month was challenging. Each one of us is probably thinking about these significant moments we had lately. So many dreams and hopes unfulfilled. So many surprises – good and bad ones. Achievements that could not be properly celebrated and acknowledged. Goodbyes that we did not expect. Hugs that were not given.
As we were getting ready for the New Year, right before Rosh Hashana, Justice Ginsburg died at home after 87 years of being her best self.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. The second daughter of Nathan and Celia Bader, she grew up in a low-income, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. Graduated from Columbia Law School, going on to become a fierce advocate for the fair treatment of women and working with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980 and appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She was easily confirmed by the Senate, 96 votes in favor. In 1999 she won the American Bar Association's Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights.
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, Justice Ginsburg’s Rabbi, spoke at the Capitol building as the body of Supreme Court justice, arrived for the high honor of lying in state for two days.
She spoke about a framed piece of art in Justice Ginsburg’s chambers that said tzedek, tzedek tirdof, “Justice, justice you must pursue.”
Rabbi Holtzblatt reminded us of Ibn Ezra’s commentary about this verse we read only a few weeks ago in the beginning of Parashat Shoftim:
“The rabbinic tradition assigns meaning to every single word in the Torah, so there must be a reason why tzedek, ‘justice,’ is written twice. The repetition here teaches that time and time again, all of the days of your life you must pursue justice.”
Justice Ginsburg understood this message very well. She is a role model for our generation, and many more to come, of someone who transformed Justice from a value into a behavior, into her own self.
Justice Ginsburg probably heard Reb Zusha’s story in her lifetime. She understood that her mission was to be Ruth, a role that no one else could have played but her.
Just like her biblical namesake, Ruth was committed, thoughtful, kind, balanced, and relentless.
Justice Ginsburg said: "I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability."
So my question for you today is: Who are you? I mean the real you. The you that no one else can be.
Have you ever asked yourself this question?
How honest can we be with ourselves when trying to give some answers?
How many circumstances or people we blame for not being able to be our true self?
The key word for this season is Teshuva – Repentance, Return, Answer.
Rambam writes about the nature of this process in the Mishne Torah (Chapter 2):
“What is complete repentance? The one who once more had the opportunity to repeat a violation, and did not do it because of repentance.”
He continues: “What is repentance? One must stop making the same mistake and remove them from your thoughts, and wholeheartedly conclude not to revert back to it”
The Rambam suggests that an essential part of this confession should be by saying it out loud and not holding back.
The Talmud (Nedarim 28a) teaches:
דברים שבלב אינן דברים
Unspoken matters that remain in the heart are not effective.
Justice Ginsburg was also a role model in making her voice heard. To herself and to those in dialogue with her. Her inner voice helped her continue her pursuit for justice and equality for all, in particular to help make space for voices that were not being heard in society. She also became famous for her powerful and short “I dissent”.
When evaluating and judging ourselves, we need to remind ourselves: we have the potential for good inside us. We were created in the divine image.
This needs to be said out loud as well. Seriously. Say it. We can only do Teshuva – Repent, Return - if we believe that we are essentially good. We need positive affirmations to remind ourselves about who we are.
“Yom Kippur is the time set aside for repentance for all, the individual as well as the many; for it is the goal of forgiveness in Israel.” said the Rambam.
I want to invite you to take it seriously this year. As the world surprised us with so many changes, we need to remind ourselves who we are at our core.
So today is a good day to start. As Justice Ginsburg said: "Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time."
Who are you? I mean the real you. The you that no one else can be.
As we focus today on prayer and introspection, we give voice to our feelings and emotions. We listen to our dreams and needs. We stop. We evaluate. We recalibrate.
Today we refrain from eating and drinking, making space to digest our deepest feelings and struggles, transforming them in sincere words of love and selfcare.
Today we dress in white as a reminder that we can write, draw and paint our lives with our own words, shapes, and colors.
Some #hashtags went viral on social media: #BeLikeRBG and # WWRBGD — What would RBG do?
Prof. Corinna Lain responded: “What would RBG do? She would turn despair into determination. She would tell you to fight, to pick up the mantle and to finish the good work she had begun.”
We won’t let you down, Justice Ginsburg – We will be our best selves.
We will use whatever talent and skills we have to honor your legacy and keep fighting for Justice and Equality for all, starting with being honest and sincere with ourselves. One step at a time.
May Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory be a blessing.
May we be inscribed and confirmed in the book of life, with honesty and selfcare.
#BeLikeRBG and #BeLikeRebZusha
The best way to be like them is to #BeYourself. Your best self.
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