William Hamilton

What’s your return policy?

What’s done is done. Once it’s in the past, there’s nothing you can do about it. Especially if it happened years ago. We simply cannot change the past.

Makes sense. Of course it does. As much as we wish we could redo something we mishandled, we know we cannot. But what if, like lots of things, it’s true but incomplete

Let’s say, I failed to show up for someone when they needed me. This happens more than I’d like to admit. And yet, my revisit with this past failure doesn’t only have to be frustrating. I can make a visit to a prior mistake and determine to turn it into a turning point. 

I can decide to give it offspring. To make it the birthplace of some new habit. When I do so, I can give progeny to a prior error. In this way, repentance is an extraordinary gift. It admits of a certain ascendancy over time itself. It can hover over time and remake things that were completed long ago. 

“Repentance is the most unassuming of all miracles,” wrote a young Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Unassuming can mean subtle. It can also mean the opposite of assumed. That is, far from given. 

It’s a New Year yet we find ourselves late in the Torah reading cycle. It’s curious that the beginning of the Year coincides with the end of the Torah. It’s only at the end of Deuteronomy that the word for repentance, return, appears and recurs (Deut 30). Here’s a good question: Why does the Torah take so long to teach the power of repentance? Something so precious to God might have appeared prior to the final chapters of the last book of the Torah. Perhaps, it comes so late in order to convey that it’s never too late to repent. 

What’s your return policy? May this be the season when refunds become remade misdeeds. And may you quietly sense the birth of glimmers of repurposed potential in the year to come.  

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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