Trusting justice - even if the Supreme Court candidate is Republican

Is being obective too much to ask of our elected representatives? The Kavanaugh hearings are a timely reminder of what justice should mean.

Larry Gordon, | updated: 09:41

Judaism Larry Gordon
Larry Gordon

Brett Kavanaugh will in all likelihood be the next appointee to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and that will be a watershed moment for this country. As Senator Lindsey Graham said to his Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee during last week’s hearings, if you want to appoint judges who share your political philosophies, then just try to win elections.

This idea of crying foul and insisting that something is unfair or not right when it comes to the matter of selecting or appointing judges when you are not the party in the White House or the majority in either house of Congress seems kind of absurd.

When Barack Obama was president, he appointed two liberal-minded judges to the High Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. The difference between then and now is that the two appointees during the Obama administration drew more than just a few Republican votes in the Senate. Several Republican senators at the time felt that they were simply two eminently qualified people to serve on the Court. That does not seem possible today, as the effort to denigrate and marginalize anything to do with President Trump is unrelenting.

On Wednesday, an editorial in the Washington Post assigned blame to President Trump for Hurricane Florence that is about to batter parts of the Carolinas. The twisted logic of the Post is that the president’s attitude and policy on the matter of climate change has contributed to the rather intense nature of Florence. If you are anti-Trump, you will believe just about anything.

For us too, this is the season for judgement, though we may not be in the business of appointing judges at present—just concerned and invested in judgement and justice. A basic underlying understanding of our U.S. Constitution is the right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” That sounds both seasonal and reasonable, especially at this time of year.

During the hearing, I heard one of the Democratic senators say that the directive of the U.S. Constitution to life can be interpreted as a guarantee that a government will provide ample and proper healthcare to its citizenry. This topic came up, no doubt, while committee members were quizzing Mr. Kavanaugh about his position on what has become known as Obamacare, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act. As it turns out, the healthcare dispensed by the program was not comprehensive, reliable, or affordable.

After all, the reasoning went, what is the value of life if one does not have his or her health? That can be understood as the government’s requirement to provide health and medical care to its people. Of course, the Republicans on the committee do not see things exactly that way.

It occurred to me over Rosh Hashanah that we have a credo or clarion call not dissimilar to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and while not the exact same thing, it is, in effect, a mantra of sorts connected to the current holidays. And those words that we can suggest are a part of the Jewish “Constitution” are “teshuvahtefillah, and tzedakah.” Those three words, which are arguably the high point of both the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur davening, are usually translated as “repentance, prayer, and charity.” The three are part of a beautiful concept of Jewish life, ingredients to use to focus as we embark on the year ahead of us.

The only thing is that although most Siddurim translate “teshuvah” as “repentance,” that is not what it really means. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a dissertation on this subject and explains that the word for repentance is “charatah,” and that teshuvah literally means “return.”

Charatah, or repentance, is really about regret or remorse and the resolution or commitment not to revisit or commit the action that you might be in the midst of repenting for. Teshuvah is about returning—and where would that be exactly? The concept of teshuvah, or return, means, in a sense, traveling back to your pure innocence that you experienced as a child. When we say “teshuvah,” the Rebbe suggests, that is what we are aiming for—that state of being when we are spiritually clean and uncontaminated.

And that is something we all have within us. As the Rebbe states: “Teshuvah does not involve creating anything new, only rediscovering the good that was always within us.”

On the matter of “tefillah,” the actual definition of the word is not “prayer.” Prayer is “bakashah,” asking for or beseeching G-d for something that you lack in your life. Tefillah and bakashah are actually opposites, as tefillah means the act of attaching oneself to G-d.

There are some other issues in the Rosh Hashanah davening, as the words we are using to express ourselves are somewhat incongruous. On the one hand, we are asking Hashem to facilitate providing this or that for us, but on the other hand we are crowning him as our King and expressing our willingness to serve him as He sees fit. What member of a tribe or group makes demands of his or her leader? In a way, that is in part what we are doing on Rosh Hashanah.

The Hebrew word for charity is chesed, not tzedakah, and these two words can have opposite meanings as well. Chesed means that the recipient has no right to the gift or donation and that the donor is under no obligation to give it. His act is an act of virtue rather than duty.

Tzedakah, on the other hand, means righteousness or justice. The resources that we appear to own are really not ours. If anything, they are a gift from Hashem to us. Still, we ask G-d to bestow good things upon us even though he owes us nothing and is under no obligation, so we are bound through justice to give to those who ask us to give even though we are not at all in their debt. In this way, we are rewarded measure for measure, and because we give freely, G-d gives freely to us.

So those are the ingredients that make the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur experience what it is. It appears that the Kavanaugh hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee was indeed quite timely, a seasonal lesson for us. It truly might be that the Judaic equivalent of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is teshuvahtefillah, and tzedakah.

While some committees are looking to confirm judges and determine the fabric of U.S. laws going forward, we are looking ahead to a good and positive judgement and, of course, a gmar chasimah tovah.