Backward On the Thread of Time

Backwards“It would be easier sometimes to change the past.”
-Jackson Browne
Fountain of Sorrow (1974)

“You can’t unring a bell.”

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?

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“How to Change the Past”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

So, which is it? Can we change the past or not? Rabbi Tauber and musician Jackson Browne say “yes”, but our anonymous bell ringing philosopher says “no”. As we approach Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar, we are reminded of the many mistakes we’ve made over the past year. While remembrance and regrets are part of what makes us human, we often want to forget and to undo those things that we have done. Is there a way? Here’s what Rabbi Tauber has to say:

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.

…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.

So the answer is “yes” and “no”. We cannot physically travel back in time and change a single word uttered in anger or even one careless action, but we can change the soul of the event and we can change our soul, re-making the meaning not only of what we have said and done, but re-making the meaning of our lives. That’s what the Days of Awe are all about, not just saying you’re sorry, and not just asking for forgiveness for your misdeeds, but spiritually, metaphysically, mystically re-creating time and space so that they, and we, are brand new again.

We are also re-creating ourselves so that we are brand new again, clean and pure as we stand before the throne of God.

According to the writer of the book of Hebrews, Messiah has become our High Priest. He entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven—the actual throne room of God—and applied His own blood for atonement. He entered into the presence of God for us so that he might usher us in as well (Hebrews 9:11-12). Messiah is our High Priest, “a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the LORD pitched, not man” (Hebrews 8:2). Therein he applied his atoning blood. Therefore, the ceremony of the Day of Atonement uniquely patterns the work of Messiah: His death, his sacrifice and the atonement of his blood. We boldly enter the presence of God because the blood of Messiah covers us. Today he stands interceding on our behalf before the throne of God, just like a high priest.

The Holiest Day of the Year
Commentary on Yom Kippur

Kol NidreIn the imagery from the Book of Hebrews, we can connect Judaism’s Yom Kippur with the atoning sacrifice of Christ. In Leviticus 16 God told Moses to tell Aaron, the High Priest of the Children of Israel, to enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to make atonement for the people. The FFOZ commentary illustrates how the Messiah, as our High Priest, has made that atonement once and for all on behalf of humanity, and in accordance with the Messianic covenant. He has opened the door and allowed the world to know God.

But Yeshua (Jesus) cried out again with a loud voice, and his spirit departed.

Then the curtain in the Sanctuary was torn from top to bottom into two pieces. The earth quaked, and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many of the holy ones sleeping in the dusty ground were awakened. They came forth from the tombs after his resurrection and entered the Holy City, and they were seen by many.

And when the centurion and the men with him who were guarding Yeshua saw the earthquake and what had happened, they were very terrified, and they said, “Surely this was the son of God.” –Matthew 27:50-54 (DHE Gospels)

Yom Kippur is a solemn reminder of who Christ is and who we are in him and how, even though we cling to the fringes of his garment, we are still frail and prone to weakness.

An interpretation given to the Kol Nidre is that the congregation declares, by implication, at the beginning of Yom Kippur: “See, O Lord, what miserable sinners we are. We make promises to live better lives each year and yet always fall far short of keeping them. Therefore, help us, O Lord, and pardon us for our shortcomings.”

-Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006)
“Kol Nidrei: The evening service of Yom Kippur is named after this declaration”
As quoted from My Jewish Learning

As solemn as the Kol Nidre service is, held the evening of Yom Kippur, there is also a promise of the future, a door opens in the fabric of the universe allowing man access to God in humility, awe, and hope. For humanity, the key to the door is Jesus, and once he guides us into the presence of the Most High, we can turn back the clock on events, or perhaps even erase them altogether, through God’s lovingkindness.

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. -Rabbi Tauber

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust. –Psalm 103:11-14

Dancing on a stringMy friend Yahnatan on his blog Gathering Sparks posted the following quote from R.R. Reno’s First Things:

I am Christian and not Jewish. I have no real grasp of Hebrew and I only vaguely follow the prayers in my wife’s synagogue. Yet, in the final moments of Yom Kippur I have felt a terrible anguish, yearning to move, and yet immobile, wanting to rush to God’s side and yet nailed to my worldly life. I have shuddered as cantor cries out: “The doors are closing; the doors are closing.” For in those haunting words I hear Jesus saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

I am also a Christian married to a Jewish wife but I don’t believe that applying Yom Kippur to a Christian faith is only for those few of us who are intermarried. God wants all of His people to live, not in the past and not in our sorrow and regrets, but in an active and joyful present life with Him. Heaven doesn’t have to wait. The Kingdom of God is as near as we want it to be. God is as close as the next beat of our hearts. Time is a river and we can swim in pursuit of God, moving upstream and down.

Sacred history may be described as an attempt to overcome the dividing line of past and present, as an attempt to see the past in the present tense (pp 211-12).

All generations of Israel, we are told, were present at Sinai…It was an act of transcending the present, history in reverse: thinking of the future in the present tense (pp 215-16)

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism

When we break the fast of Yom Kippur, let us dance with God backward across the strand of time while looking forward to another year ahead in His Holy splendor.

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