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How to Change the Past

How to Change the Past


"I shouldn't have..." "If only I'd known..." Whether it's an outright wrong, an unwise decision or a missed opportunity, we humans tend to harp on the past, often to the detriment, or even paralysis, of our present endeavors and future potentials.

Some would advise us to let bygones be bygones and get on with our lives. We are physical beings, and the laws of physics (at least as they stand now) dictate that time runs in one direction only. So why not simply put the past behind us, especially since the past is behind us whether we put it there or not?

It's advice we do not take. We continue to feel responsible for what was, continue to attempt to rewrite our histories, continue to regard our past as something that somehow still "belongs" to us. Something in our nature refuses to let go, refuses to reconcile itself with the one-directional flow of time.

Yes, we are physical beings; but there is something in us that transcends the physical. Man is an amalgam of matter and spirit, a marriage of body and soul. It is our spiritual self that persists in the belief that the past can be redeemed. It is our connection with the spiritual essence of our lives that grants us the capacity for teshuvah--the capacity to "return" and retroactively transform the significance of past actions and experiences.

What is this "spiritual essence" with which we seek connection? And how does it enable us to literally change the past?

Not just man, but every object, force and phenomenon has both a "body" and a "soul." A thing's body is its physical mass, its quantifiable dimensions, its "hard facts." A thing's soul is its deeper significance—the truths it expresses, the function it performs, the purpose it serves.

By way of example, let us consider the following two actions: in a dark alleyway, a knife-wielding gangster attacks a member of a rival gang; a hundred yards away, a surgeon bends over a sedated patient lying on the operating table. The "body" of these two actions are quite similar: one human being takes hold of a sharp metal object and slices open the belly of a second human being. But an examination of the "soul" of these two events—the desires that motivate them, the feelings that suffuse them, the aims they seek to achieve—reveals them to be vastly different deeds.

In other words, man is a spiritual creature in that he imparts significance to his deeds and experiences. Things don't just happen—they happen for a reason, they mean something, they further a certain objective. The same event can therefore mean different things to different people; by the same token, two very different events may serve the same purpose and elicit identical feelings, imbuing them with kindred souls despite the dissimilarity of their bodies.

The body of our lives is wholly subject to the tyranny of time—the "hard facts" cannot be undone. A missed flight cannot be unmissed; a harsh word uttered to a loved one cannot be unspoken. But the soul of these events can be changed. Here we can literally travel back in time to redefine the significance of what occurred.

You oversleep, miss that flight, and never show up for that important meeting. The initial significance of that event: your boss is furious, your career suffers a serious setback, your self-esteem plummets. But you refuse to "put the past behind you." You dwell on what happened. You ask yourself: What does it mean? What does it tell me about myself? You realize that you don't really care for your job, that your true calling lies elsewhere. You resolve to make a fresh start, in a less profitable but more fulfilling endeavor. You have reached back in time to transform that slumbered hour into a wake-up call.

Or you have an argument, lose your cool, and speak those unforgivable words. The next morning you're friends again, agreeing to "forget what happened." But you don't forget. You're horrified by the degree of your insensitivity; you agonize over the distance that your words have placed between the two of you. Your horror and agony make you realize how sensitive you truly are to each other, how much you desire the closeness of the one you love. You have reached back in time to transform a source of distance and disharmony into a catalyst for greater intimacy and love.

On the material surface of our lives, time's rule is absolute. But on its spiritual inside, the past is but another vista of life, open to exploration and development with the transformative power of teshuvah.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
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kailash ale November 14, 2014

The best actions are done when we're careful and not careless about matters and,one should always be careful to interpret and do things in the correct manner than to remorse later on. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 18, 2013

life's most profound paradox Divine Providence in every step we take Forgiveness is a deep paradox. We all do things we regret. Some things in life are criminal, deep, brutal, and put people in jail. Some people seem not capable of comprehending what they did, and that is a deep and ongoing sorrow and conundrum.

The deep paradox of forgiveness that's personal, is knowing we're in a story we didn't write. And then, if we rejoice in the me in the mirror, we must realize somehow, strangely, the journey, including the missed moments, the missteps, brought us to this place at this time, and so, we must not only put G_d on trial but forgive G_d even as we ask forgiveness. This is deep.

On this plane, it's plain we live in the OW of the NOW and must feel we wronged another, and we hurt. On another plane, we are ringed by the Lord of the Rings, who holds absolute Dominion over all that lives and dies. And I am saying one can go deep, or surface on a question that sends me to Jerusalem, to the Wall.
PARDES, the Orchard, is about just this. Reply

Vivek narain Lucknow india April 16, 2013

Past It's easy once you know the trick, the trick is to have a proper attitude and avoiding greed. With such a combination you can't go wrong at any period of life. Reply

Joseph Dee Grimsby September 21, 2017
in response to Vivek narain:

I really like what you say!
I think in our obedience to G_d we learn the laws and try to live in them. It is important to continue to change our future from the past. To strive to be a good example in the honour and glory of G_d. Every day our actions can influence the "knife-wielding gangster ". Every day our actions could influence anyone's soul. Let it be an action of Love and Courage in our Faith in the honour of G_d Reply

Tanya Prg via October 7, 2012

To: Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Maybe I was not clear enough. She had stopped being a friend. For a while I did not know why - I thought we sorted out everything during our Yom Kippur phone call. But that was apparently the end.

Few months later, I found out that even before Yom Kipur, she had done something very wrong. I was angry, but she was not contacting me any longer any way, so I had no way to discuss it over with her.
However, I do see her at services, her child attends classes with my children.... Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 7, 2012

"Sound" bytes the 'R't in Rticles RESH there have been wonderful articles to comment on, and wonderful articles to stimulate thinking, and articles I could not fully agree wtih, but the ability to argue is a good thing, and a kind of openness that is refreshing, at times.

Learned people live everywhere and I have learned the man or woman with the cup on the streets, begging, could be someone who has more to impart to me, personally, by way of wisdom, than all the sages on line. As sage is for green, and what lives on in the humane soul, that's what I see.

I took a journey and that journey took me into the core, of what's important, so perhaps the apple and its core, going back to Adam and Eve, has everything to do with core values and ethical consciousness. I think maybe, this is what Steve Jobs saw when he had his aha! moment just before dying. It WAS, Wow, my journey makes absolute sense, and even, perhaps, the significance of Apple in a deeper way.

We are, the stories we tell, and a massive story surrounds CREATIVITY Reply

Glenn Ford Bendigo September 25, 2012

Yanki Tauber's articles He would have to be one of the most rational & learned men alive. Yanki never fails to put into words lifes challenges,and innocent GOOD ways to deal with each one.I have read him many times in "Lamplighter" weekly magazine. I have missed that little paper -having printed it for 15 years. Say Hi to Yirimi L for me. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 25, 2012

change continued I didn't quite finish my comment to Karen.

I am thinking of the common saying: You can bring a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink.

I think we often do get hoarse in trying to teach others, something that is about sensitivity and a way of relatedness that works, but we fall down. Repeatedly.

Then maybe it's time to move on. Find your cohorts who see as you do, who resonate with your way of being, who give you pleasure in that relationship of friendship, not rendship.

Friendship is important, and to communicate one's being with another without being stepped on is very important. Take those friends and hug and cherish them, as they no doubt, cherish you Reply

ruth housman marshfield, ma September 25, 2012

Hurt Hurt is in the rearrangement of the letters of my name, of the name, Ruth.

I have been hurt many times, as have we all.
In friendship, too, there is often deep hurt, and I think Karen is right, above, that telling them is one way to try to resolve this.

Often it helps and just as often, what they do, in continuing, seems to be part of their psyche, and the way they are. If there is no learning curve, no acknowledgment, after trying, you can then, shut the door, and hope something happens that enters their consciousness, perhaps others saying the same thing, that changes the way things are. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA September 24, 2012

To Tanya, Prg. Your FRIEND? If this person is deliberately hurting you, how is she your friend? I don't understand. Is she just someone with whom you are familiar and thrown together socially? Friends don't deliberately hurt each other. You can't change other people, but you can let them know clearly what the consequences will be if their actions continue, and also spell out how they can do better. Then, it is up to them. Always begin this conversation with, "When.... happens, I feel ....". Reply

Faith Savitt New Hope, MN/USA September 24, 2012

The subject of change Thank you. Again you have called attention to another reason to have an attitude of gratitude. It occurs to me that 1, we must be grateful, 2) we must want to know what may need changing, 3) we must ask to see with our mind's eye and wisdom that which needs to be changed, 4)we must know and accept that with this knowledge, comes the responsibility to accept the information and finally, 5) with good intention, move to action, to make the change to the best of our ability. Again, give thanks. Reply

Tanya Prg via September 24, 2012

How to forgive 2 years ago on Yom Kippur a friend called to ask for forgiveness in case she did something I had not liked. I thought I knew what she referred to, apologized as well and forgave. However, she still stopped contacting me and calling me back. I was confused.
But later I found out she did something worse, something consciously against my will. Since then I was not able to forgive her.

I decided I would like to solve it this year. Please advice... Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA October 24, 2011

Re: Health; whereas we can't change... We can't change the end results of not caring for our bodies when younger, we can warn the young people to care for their bodies and eat the right foods and get enough exercise. I am now reaping the end result of decades of not caring for my own body & health while taking care of others (no time for caring for myself). So, now, although I'm 8 years out from breast cancer, I discovered another lump...this time in my lymph nodes (one 3 cm and numerous other ones involved). I stayed morbidly obese for too many years and ate junk food. I worked across from a toxic waste site. I breathed in my parents' cigarette smoke. So, to all you who are younger than 65...PLEASE change your future self's past (which would be now). GO take a walk daily. DO fun activities that get you moving. STAY AWAY from fast foods and highly processed foods. If you work in a highly stressful environment, GET OUT any way possible. Enjoy each day and take care of yourself. G-d bless you all. Pray. Thanks. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 11, 2011

the creation of a gentler narrative I so totally agree with Karen Joyce that is is never OK to abuse, and that it would be wonderful if those who had been abused, did not follow that chain for reasons we can fathom but all the same, deeply hurtful to themselves and to the others they encounter. We do tend to seek the familiar, and even abuse can become, sadly, that way, and seem safer than an uncertain leap forward into what is unknown. There is a paradox here. Therapists do see this all the time, and it is very difficult to move people towards change, towards a circularity of thinking that prevents fresh air, a new perspective on life.

Life IS about metaphor, on every level, and we all use metaphor to make what we are saying clear to each other, as a scientist will drave from something we all know, to explicate what seems abstract, very difficult, in such more concrete terms.

Religion too, and views that are cast in stone, often create great hurt and what IS the yardstick of Who speaks for G_d? Our job: to decide. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA October 10, 2011

These are all metaphors. In reality, The past is passed. It can't be changed. It is what it is, and it was what it was. This article mostly speaks to our REACTIONS to the past. I think what needs to be added here is not just a personal note. Also, we need to discuss how not to re-create the past. If we learn from bad experiences, we don't have to continue them. People who had an abusive past sometimes continue the chain of abuse. We MUST see past actions as being improper if they were, and instead of saying, "Oh, I came out ok, so that kind of parenting must be ok", we need to say it like it is. Past abuse is WRONG and should not be re-created in the next generation. Reply

Anonymous Omaha, Ne October 8, 2011

amends with deceased family member Joshua told the people that the future was theirs; they could reach for life or death and receive what they chose. There is life and death in every event of one's life, as well. If we grasped the death of a past event and the person is dead, we can still re-choose as long as we are alive. Re-think the past event seeking to see the "life" that was there. Are you more humble? Are you more cautious in your communications? Perhaps the other person was somehow better because of the event/events. This is some of its "life." Did the deceased possess gifts that you saw them use to serve God or man? Did they exemplify any good traits? Now resolve to make it a point to share these good ("life") reports with others. If there were none, you can still thank God for your survival of the event. This is still choosing "life" that will bring peace. We are not blessed by regret but growth. God desires that for us or there would be no YOM KIPPUR. Reply

Howard Crawford Sydney, Australia October 6, 2011

How to change the past.
As humans we cannot change the past but have a capacity for Teshuvah, to return.
This is a spiritual quality and when any of us return to Hashem those who we believe we have wronged, even if they have passed on have served their purpose in redemption.
It is only important that we remember and learn. Learning, Torah is the ultimate gift any person who has wronged someone, even myself can give. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 5, 2011

Time Travelers in quest,request, & bequest Those of us blessed and cursed with memories, of both the agony, the ecstasy, and all those in between moments, know about re member ing. We place ourselves back, in time, though we cannot reverse, time. The poetry in identity is the acknowledgment that a story brought us to this place, at this time, assuming we're here, in mind and body. There are those who sadly, seem to have lost memory, as in the terrible ravages of Alzheimer's.

There are those I have loved and lost to this, a dread disease, and perhaps the saving grace is that they do not seem to know.

We learn about life's ragged, raw edges, first hand, and it is that helping hand that provides for us all what is healing, what is the motive force behind our stories.

As to repentance, I think we all should of course feel the need to ask forgiveness. Knowing that G_d runs the entire story, meaning wrote our stories, for our learning, I forgive G_d for the sake of a story, a massive cosmic story, because LOVE is the only answer. Reply

Anonymous January 16, 2011

Anger and Forgiveness To be angry at the family members that were once a part of your lives is a complete waste of time. When illness enters the world of these people one must forgive and forget the way things "were that caused the anger" but forgive and get on with your lives. because whether you like it or not, they will always be a part of you. Do not wait to be sorry and do the "would have, should have" but now is the time to be with your loved ones for all the support they need before it is too late. Forgiveness is very powerful and helps the soul to heal; anger is a waste of time and energy. None of us were put on this earth to be perfect individuals but we must strive to do the right thing for every human being. The Lord forgives so why can't we? On the other hand, if the party on the other end is not forgiving and you have tried and tried, then it must be laid to rest and your conscious should be clear. Reply

BEN P WELLINGTON, FL September 23, 2009

anonymous Basically the teshuvah process is one in which you approach the family either individually or together and own up to your part of the deal. never ever bring up what they might have done. Clean your house so to speak. Admit to your shortcomings, sincerely apologize and ask what you can do to make it the way it once was, the way you want it to be again. This is the most important part, when you ask that question don;t speak listen and whatever they say do. This is the ideal time of year to broach this topic we are all in forgiving moods as well as asking for forgiveness ourselves so timing is good. You may find they are not interested in making amends our rabbis tell us we have an obligation to try three times and then consider it something you cannot change. Good luck and feel free to ask more questions. Reply

Anonymous Stuttgart, DE September 23, 2009

making amends How do I ask for forgivness from my family after years of silence?
I don't want to drudge up old issues but I also don't want to sweep things under the rug. Reply

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