Clearly, memories work in strange ways. Whether “what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget”, or whether we choose to remember things differently than the way they really happened, it is quite common that our vivid memories, or lack of memory, may have little resemblance to what actually happened in the past. Especially so when dealing with traumatic events, or in cases when one wishes to remember something a certain way, memories are notorious for playing tricks on people in ways unbeknownst to them. I have had countless experiences as a Rabbi and an attorney in which I witnessed people who were present at the same event as I and claimed to remember it very differently, or when they claimed to remember an event, that upon some probing, turned out to have happened substantially differently than first reported.
It should be fairly obvious that it is hard for a fair-minded observer to decide whether to believe the memory of a long-ago trauma vividly recounted by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, or the deeply heartfelt total denial of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Like millions of others, I was riveted to the all-day gut-wrenching event and saw two very compelling performances. One interesting commentary wrote, “The Kavanaugh Hearing Is Not ‘He Said, She Said’. It’s ‘She Remembers What He Did, He Doesn’t’”. I think, however, that it is more complicated than that.
Dr. Ford remembers an event that may or may not have happened the way she remembers it, given the tricks that memories play on us. While it is fairly clear that she did have a very traumatic experience about thirty-two years ago, there are several major problems with her story, such as:
- She cannot remember the date, time, or place of the event with any certainty.
- All the witnesses that she claimed would corroborate her story have denied knowledge of it
- There is no other corroboration to be had.
- Several of her statements clearly deviated from the truth, such as her alleged inability to fly in for the hearing, when it turns out that she is a frequent international traveler, and she denied knowing what the whole country knew – that the Committee had offered to come to California to hear her testimony.
- Another man has come forward claiming that he, in fact, was the perpetrator.
And so on. As for Judge Kavanaugh, it is clear that as a youth he drank often, that some of the groups he was associated with had questionable sexual standards, and that it is possible that something that he claims not to remember did, in fact, happen, at least to some extent.
For if there are undeniably clear villains in this sordid matter, they are Senators Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein and other Democrat Senators, who declared that they would oppose the nomination “with everything they had”, even before the nominee was announced.
I am pleased that Senator Flake asked for exactly what I would have wanted: a strictly time-limited FBI investigation into the new revelations, to see if they could uncover anything that was still knowable about this long-ago event to help clear away lingering doubts. It is crucial that the one-week limit is strictly adhered to; this would ensure that the dirty politics underlying this whole affair would not be a factor. For if there are undeniably clear villains in this sordid matter, they are Senators Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein and other Democrat Senators, who declared that they would oppose the nomination “with everything they had”, even before the nominee was announced. Judge Kavanaugh was absolutely right in decrying that they had changed their senatorial function from “Advice and Consent” to “Search and Destroy”, and engaged in pure character assassination, surpassing what was done to Judge Bork.
As Piers Morgan put it “The Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, timed this bombshell to cause maximum damage to the nomination process, and to exploit the inevitable scandalous headlines to influence the vital midterm elections in just 40 days time.
Feinstein knew about Ford’s allegation two months ago. The right thing to do would have been to publicly demand an immediate investigation – including, if necessary, by the FBI.
Instead, she held it back, waiting to strike when the potential political gain was at its most timely...
Shame on Senator Feinstein, shame on the Democrats.
That such an important moment in American history should be reduced to this horrific bear-pit is as absurd as it’s unacceptable.
Every American who genuinely cares about their country should share my outrage about what they watched today... The whole thing was a complete and utter disgrace.
Or as Senator Lindsey Graham put it today: ‘The most despicable thing I have ever seen in politics.’ "
Furthermore, the total abdication of basic principles of liberty, such as "innocent until proven guilty" by the supposed champions of "liberalism" has been totally disgraceful. While the #MeToo movement has prompted much-needed change in societal attitudes, one must remember that there are too many cases of false sexual assault charges -- going back at least to Mrs. Potiphar against Joseph -- to reject the automatic belief of any woman making an unsubstantiated claim, as too many have done.
I will not comment here about the importance of this Supreme Court nomination, (see what I have written previously here and here). As things stand now, unless the FBI investigation unexpectedly comes up with corroboration for Dr. Ford’s story, it is clear to me that there is insufficient evidence to sink Judge Kavanaugh’s credible denial, and the Democrats should not be awarded for their despicable behavior by having the nomination postponed until after the election.
However, I am taking the time to write on Hoshana Rabba eve in order to comment on what we might be able to take away from this in terms of our own experience.
if deep in one’s heart one knows that one is still struggling with the same issue(s) and has not really let go of that negative action or tendency, and perhaps still find themselves tempted to succumb to the same type of indiscretion, then their teshuva is obviously still incomplete.
When this allegation first came to light, I had the wonderful privilege of visiting with my Rebbe, Rav Michel Twerski שליט"א in Milwaukee for Shabbos Shuva. I asked him, “This has caused me to think --What if there is something that I did in my past that I quite embarrassed about, that I suspect has hurt someone else who may not have fully forgiven me, or still makes me shudder when I think of it? I have repented often on Yom Kippurs past – is this something that I still have to carry now? How do I approach Yom Kippur with this feeling?
He gave an entire shiur in answer, and I can only hope to capture a smidgen of it here. But if I remember correctly, the essence of it was – it depends. There are youthful indiscretions or other matters in one’s past that required teshuva and repentance. If one has a deep sincere inner feeling that they have truly worked through those issues, and have since grown and accomplished a sincere change of character, and as the Rambam (Teshuva 2:4) says, are capable of saying “I am no longer that person”, then they need to put that in the past and not let it interfere with their current life and Avodas Hashem. They need to believe that the power of teshuva atones for sins, and we are given a clean slate and should focus on the present and the future.
However, if deep in one’s heart one knows that one is still struggling with the same issue(s) and has not really let go of that negative action or tendency, and perhaps still find themselves tempted to succumb to the same type of indiscretion, then their teshuva is obviously still incomplete. Even then, the healthy way of dealing with it (according to Hassidic tradition) is still primarily by focusing on acting positively rather than wallowing in the shmutz of the past. (He quoted the Rebbe of Kotzk as saying that if you spend time dealing with mud, you will inevitably get muddy). But certainly, part of Yom Kippur should be about still trying to let go of the ugly past, and asking for help in finally making that break for a better future.
In the case of Judge Kavanaugh, even ASSUMING that he is truly not remembering an event that did happen long ago, it seems clear to me that he is no Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Bill Clinton or Bill Cosby, who in their adult lives continued their despicable and lecherous behavior, and fully deserve all of the censure and shame that has come upon them. Although Brett Kavanaugh has not repented for this alleged act (which he appears to truly not recall ever happening), he has for the last thirty years by all accounts led a model and virtuous life that bespeaks a different person, incapable of such actions (hence his very raw emotions and pain on display in his visceral denial). Given that there is (so far) far too little to corroborate the account of his accuser, and given who he is today, I would hope that he will be confirmed by the Senate and faithfully decide cases according to the Constitution’s original intent for many years to come.
And in dealing with the skeletons in our own closets, let us hope that we did our best in this season of Teshuva in truly affecting the necessary changes in our persona, and rejoice in the joy that our Father in Heaven allows us by cleaning our slate, and move forward in life with Simcha and fulfillment.
May we merit to be among those who will be privileged to dance at the Simchat Bet HaShoeva in the Bet HaMikdash, who would be able to say: Happy is our old age, that atoned for our youth when we sinned. (Talmud Sukka 53a)