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[KE CyberTorah] Rewriting the Past and the Future

Rewriting the Past and the Future

From a certain vantage, the past is fixed. All that has formed a person to this point has already occurred and can never be changed. From that same vantage, the future similarly must become what it will be. We are prisoners of time and circumstance and our choices only appear to have meaning. 

The Jewish consciousness posits something of a different nature. While the events of the past seem fixed, our understanding of them may change. That change, when we see a past event in a new way, means the past itself can be altered. This means my choices matter because I can create who I am  through a new understanding of the past.

The future is similarly mutable. I may look and realize that my choices will lead me in a certain direction and to a particular outcome and then, by seeing that almost prophetic glimpse of who I might become, I can choose otherwise. I can realize that a current path will lead me to a self I don’t want to become and from the present rewrite that possible future.

This process, which we call teshuvah (repentance), means a reinvention of the self through a new way of seeing who you are, were, and will be. The process is challenging. We need first to ready ourselves. We need honest judgement, we need gratitude, and we need compassion for ourselves and others. Only then do we possess the tools needed to reimagine what was, what is, and what will be.

For the first twenty five years of my marriage, I carried around in my mind what I felt Carol “owed” me. I did good things for her, she for me. I would sometimes become resentful, sullen, when she wasn’t offering those things around which I had expectations. With my work in gratitude, I came to realize that I am blessed to have her in my life. Everything she offers me is an offering of love. This let me see the past in a new way. Loving acts that before had been invisible became vivid. Moments of anger and frustration on my part became revealed as the immature and self focused demands that they were. The present became transformed as we uncovered a new connection and love.  

Teshuvah means to re-examine the past with new eyes, eyes informed by understanding, gratitude, and compassion. It means allowing that new understanding to create a new future, a future in which those wounds and scars help elevate us where before they damaged and wounded our future self.

A few concrete steps as we all prepare for Yom Kippur.

  1. Where in the past are some of your wounds and hurts? Can you look at them with new eyes? Perhaps with a new understanding of what caused the wound that will allow love to enter. Or perhaps to simply hold the wound in compassion and to tell a new story, a story in which that wound invites you into a hopeful future.
  2. When you envision who you can be, the future that you desire, how can you move towards that future? What would have to change in your now to arrive at that future moment as you imagine today?
  3. And finally, can you imagine yourself liberated by the past to embrace that future? What might change in you to embrace that possibility of life and blessing?

The work I propose has been deemed impossible by the world’s philosophers and many great religions. We need each other to do this work and when we set out are met by God, the Divine helping guide us, strengthening us, and bringing us into a moment in which we are cleansed as the driven snow and transformed into the self that, with God’s help, we have created.

Shabbat Shalom and an easy fast!
Rabbi David Booth

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyyar 5784