The Past Can Be Prelude

The challenge, frustration and color of life is that each day is promising at its beginning and irrevocable at its end.

Centuries apart, a medieval Persian poet and a modern author voice the same frustration: “The moving finger writes; and, having writ/ moved on: nor all your piety nor wit/ Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,/ nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” So wrote Omar Khayyam. Here is the same sentiment is expressed pithily, almost brutally, by the author of “The Forsyte Saga,” John Galsworthy: “The biggest tragedy of life is the utter impossibility to change what you have done.”

And yet. Judaism teaches that we cannot undo the past but we can transcend it. There is teshuva and tikkun, repentance and repair. A mistake can be an opening instead of an epitaph. Relationships that we fractured we can seek to fix; hurts we inflicted we can try to heal. The past can be a prelude — filled with regrets but also with wisdom on which to build.   

One of the illusions of youth is that age will provide the answers. Instead, it grants complexity to our questions and weaves more intricate confusion. The moving finger is still writing: If the past inspires a better future, sadness and uncertainty may give way to celebration.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at Wolpe.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.