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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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Discussion (49)
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.
kailash ale
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.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
April 16, 2013
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.
Vivek narain
Lucknow india
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....
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
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
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.
Glenn Ford
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
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
September 25, 2012
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.
ruth housman
marshfield, ma
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 ....".
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, 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.
Faith Savitt
New Hope, MN/USA