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You Can't Go Back to Yesterday because You Were Different Then

January 19, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

Lewis Carroll makes an excellent point we would all do well to consider.

I just saw a great quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “It’s no good to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” Lewis Carroll nailed it and he’s echoing a fundamental principle in Jewish thought that “Ein Mazel b’Yisrael – There is no fate, fixed destiny for the Jewish people." What does this mean and why is this so? Lewis Carroll apparently understood.

While my fate at this very moment may in fact be predetermined, as I continue to change, so does my destiny. Every choice I make turns me into a different human being, in ways great and small. And every difference, no matter how subtle, affects my future.

This applies to both our positive choices and our negative ones. And it includes acts of omission as well as ones of commission. For example, if we would be in the habit of yelling at our children in order to get them out to school on time (I’m imagining a hypothetical here!) and one morning, we didn’t yell, the choice to refrain from yelling would change our essence - and our future. This is important to remember for ourselves and, sometimes in our parenting strategy as well.

If we have a child who has problems with expressing anger i.e. he or she says nasty things to others (my imagination is on overdrive creating all these hypotheticals!), when we create that rewards chart, we need to offer gold stars not just for affirmatively nice behaviors but also for self-reported moments of restraint. We tend to obsess about the past, to replay situations over and over in minds hoping for a different outcome. Instead we should follow the advice of Alice’s creator - with a slight tweak. If our actions harmed someone else, we need to take responsibility and apologize. If they harmed our relationship with our Creator, we also need to take responsibility and repent. But then we move on. Those actions are the choices that will turn us into a different person and change our future. Wallowing in guilt will not move us in a positive direction.

It’s tempting to give up, to feel trapped, to think that there’s nothing I can do to change the future. But that’s not true. That’s the path of least resistance but not the path of upward growth and change.

At the very least, even in those situations that appear to be pre-determined or that we recognize are fixed for the moment, we still have choices to make. We choose how to respond to those situations. Whatever life throws us, we choose our reaction. It’s up to us to make it positive or negative. And whatever our reaction, we do in fact become a different human being because of it - either for our benefit, or, God forbid, to our detriment.

Ultimately the most crucial choice of all and the one with zero fixed element is the relationship we have with the Almighty. This is totally within our power; this is totally up to us. It is not fate or karma or kismet or any other new age phenomenon. It is our true area of freedom and the most significant place where we can embrace Mr. Carroll’s wisdom, “It’s no good to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

I would add that it is good to move forward to tomorrow because I can choose to be a different (read: better) person then as well.

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