This is the message I shared with my congregation during this past weekend’s Rosh Hashanah services, before we said the mourner’s Kaddish for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and from the Congress floor today.
We have to resist what may be our first impulse over the loss of Justice Ginsburg – the political horror of it. When people die, it is hard to step back from the moment and circumstances in order to imbibe the lessons of their lives, isn’t it? Especially in circumstances like this.
I want to suggest that instead of fuming over Mitch McConnell and all of his blatant hypocrisy, or fretting about or gaming out what is to come, instead of all that let us consider this woman.
A tiny person. A modest person. A young wife who helped her husband with his schoolwork, only turning to hers in the middle of the night. A woman who, nevertheless, finished at the top of her class. A brilliant lawyer no law firm would hire, because she had ovaries and, heaven forfend, was a mother.
A person thus pushed into teaching and given the space for advocacy. The system, by discriminating against her, set up a mighty campaign to fell discrimination.
Please pause on that. The very architect of the assault against legal discrimination against women who, following in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall, carefully disassembled the wall excluding women from all manner of rights brick by well-chosen brick.
The appeals court judge who was not President Clinton’s first choice to join the Supreme Court but who blew him away with her brilliance and charismatic anti-charisma – her directness, lack of artifice, legal brilliance so plain that it was sun-like.
For nearly three decades, a Supreme Court justice who hammered out brave decisions and dissents that shone the light towards the future of dignity and justice for all, and, on these high holy days, we reaffirm our faith is a possible and necessary future. A teacher-justice, who crafted these decisions in a manner not only meant to make law in the moment, but to teach future justices and the general public how law functions in the real world.
In the end, the justice-turned-icon, Notorious RBG, the most unlikely rock star, whose seeming diminutive frailty was the falsest thing about her, hiding a will of steel, that galloping mind, and a glint in her eye that told every girl, “I am with you and, indeed, you ARE me, we are one.”
Why must we breathe in the full measure of this person before we turn to the tragedy of her death? Why can’t we just turn with anxiety and determination to the next fight, the fight over RBG’s replacement?
Because in pausing to appreciate Ruth Bader Ginsburg fully, we see the importance of brilliant strategy and steely determination and good humor. Reflecting on her astounding accomplishments, we realize that we can win in the end.
Amidst our tears, we realize we have no choice but to listen to her, and to John Lewis, and to others we have lost in a moment of turmoil when we need them most, to study their ways, pick up their tools, and march on towards justice. You want a Rosh Hashanah that tests your faith? Try losing RBG to start things off. You want to make 5781 a year of hope and joy? Try taking immense pride in the outsize accomplishments of this tiny Jew and vowing to make her proud.
Only then, after we immerse ourselves in prayer, reflection and intention-setting, will we fully be ready to meet the coming moment.
Andy Levin serves as the U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 9th Congressional District.