September 22, 2020
Dear Mr. President,
This is a pretty serious letter, but these times call for serious thoughts and words.
Rosh Hashana was different this year, but it was full of spiritual and emotional meaning and the words and lessons continue to preoccupy my thoughts and plans for the coming year. The time spent in prayer and reflection was a gift to be able think about the past year and all the tensions, anxieties and sadness and to find some hope for the next one.
This is a tough time for you what with all the worry about the election and your own future, so I thought I’d share a few words of the Machzor, and my Jewish texts and traditions that might be helpful. The first of these thoughts comes from Psalm 146 and it is about justice. “Put no trust in the powerful, in mortals who cannot save. Their breath departs, they return to dust, and that is the end of their grand designs”. So, neither you nor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may her memory be for a blessing, will have final authority over how justice will rule. You may appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court, but the outcome of that appointment may not lead to “justice” as defined in the Torah. Justice Ginsburg worked for those principles of justice. The biblical standard of justice, repeated over and over and over again in the text, is “always defined by the treatment of the poor, the weak, the powerless, the infirm, the unprotected.” (Machzor, Sim Shalom). It is this principal that allows the world to exist. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Here’s another thought that might help you deal with your current turmoil. It’s a quote from Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, may his memory be for a blessing: “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.” If you are constantly breaking and destroying institutions and laws or demeaning or accusing people of untruths, you might need to work on the second half of that quote.
One last thought has to do with the gut wrenching, rising heart rate and joy of hearing the shofar blown. Our service included intensely personal reflections by a number of people on their thoughts and memories about hearing the sound of the shofar. The shofar is viewed as an alarm, as a wake- up call and as the start of personal motivation to action. It’s our push to do what is right and to improve the world and ourselves. The prophet, Micah preached about how division in the country and in families led to hate. He scolded the people about being dishonest in the marketplace and about corruption in government and warned that both would lead to destruction if ways and hearts were not changed. So, what should we be doing? Here is the famous prophecy of Micah who told us what G-d wants us to do: “Do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy G-d”. As we think about our world, our communities, our families and ourselves, it is a push to DO justice.