Why Do We Say “May Her Memory Be for a Blessing”? Originally Published September 25-26, 2020.

The world has lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg (z”l). 

So just why do we say “May her memory be for a blessing”?  (That “(z”l)” after her name above stands for zikhronah livrakha, blessed memory, in the shorthand form.)

Proverbs 10:7 says “the memory of the righteous is invoked in blessing” but “the fame of the wicked rots.”  (There is an unsanguine phrase for the latter that has been used after the names of the nefarious deceased, but perhaps we should let it rot into disuse.)

Memory being for a blessing really refers to the continued blessing that the person leaves behind, from her good works, good deeds, teachings, example, etc. – from her life so well lived that the goodness should continue to flow. 

Sometimes we wish people fond memories of their loved ones to sustain them through their grief, but this is not really that.  This reference is to the continued blessing of and from the deceased herself, the future blessing that the whole world will derive, the positive outcome of which continues to inure to her collected legacy of righteousness even after death.

Now, as a practical matter, when we see “(z”l)” or in Hebrew letters “(ז”ל)” we should recognize that notation as indicating that the person has passed on.  In English the colloquial gives us “the late” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as if she is merely tardy or dilatory in her duties rather than deceased.  (Your correspondent will resist contemplating whether she will ever be on time again, or has attained the ability to be perennially timely.)

As far as continuing a memory, one way we Jews perpetuate an exemplary person’s legacy is by naming someone after that person.  From generation to generation…  May she be bound in the bonds of life eternal.