The Deliberate Returning

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who shall live and who shall die…who shall perish by fire and who by water; who by sword, and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by earthquake and who by plague…”

Yom Kippur – known in English as the Day of Rememberance or the Day of Atonement, the culmination of the High Holy Days (or Days of Awe) – is the day in which Jews believe that G-d seals His Judgements for the coming year. If one were to look at this Divine Book as if it were a graphic novel, then on Rosh Hashanah the text and artwork would be laid down in pencil, leaving room for erasures and changes before it is inked in on Yom Kippur.

If it were not for G-d’s mercy, we believe, we would all merit death at this time.

“But tefillah, tzedakah, and tschuvah avert the fatal decree.”

I’ve kept the Hebrew here because the translations are not exact, and because discussing them in the context of our personal health bears merit for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Tefillah means “prayer”. Many of us grew up with prescribed liturgies and rituals, each of which is intended to please the Deity or Deities we worship. Others of us grew up with more “free form” prayer – or if not, we adopt it in emergencies (“please, G-d, don’t let this plane crash!”) and times of stress (“please let me not have ketones with this high!!”) From what I see of different religions’ beliefs and rituals, the purpose of formal ritual is to put us into a semi-hypnotic, almost alpha state. In this state, many of us experience a different sort of awareness. Some may feel a calming energy; others may feel an underlying feeling of excitement. Various Paths describe it in terms of convergence with Deity: the Goddess descending upon a Wiccan, a Christian feeling the Holy Spirit, or the sense of the Jungian Collective Consciousness. This is the state that calms us, centers us, and prepares us to deal with the unpleasantries of life. It is the bliss state we yearn for, a de-stressor we can call upon to the degree that we have trained ourselves to tune into it.

Tzedakah means “righteousness” or “right living”; it also means “charity”. A tzadik, or “righteous person”, is a person who follows religious law to a “T”, does right by everybody he encounters, and does his best to make the world a better place. For those of us with diabetes, tzedakah could mean eating our meals at regular times, following a healthy diet, testing when we are supposed to, and taking our medications (including insulin) at the appropriate times. Just as a tzadik is learned in religious law, a “righteous diabetic” understands what diabetes is, what it can do, and what steps may be needed to manage his (or her) own diabetes (most of the time). Tzadikkim search out the sages, discuss – often heatedly – fine points of religious law with rabbis and learned men, and by doing this, bring themselves to a greater understanding of their religion. And so it is with many of us, our medical teams, and our diabetes. Finally, the “righteous” man needs to do right by his fellow-man. He gives those in need what they need to become self-sufficient – or where he cannot, he gives as much as he can to help them along – not for any personal gain, but because it is the right thing to do. For many people with diabetes, this means participating in ADA and JDRF walks, donating to (or raising funds for) various diabetes-related non-profits, or participating in on-line or “real-life” support groups where we can assist those who are struggling to learn how to care for themselves, or to implement good self-care practices.

Tschuvah is often translated as “repentance”, but may more correctly mean “turning” – as in, “turning away from evil”. In a Yom Kippur sermon, my university rabbi suggested that the turning was more important than repentance. You can say “I’m sorry” – but what does that mean unless you make an effort to change your behavior so that you no longer make that transgression? The path from “sinner” to “saint” is not a one-day turnaround – nor is the process from “diabetic in denial” to “born-again diabetic”. We can kick ourselves for “bad numbers” after a pizza binge, but unless we master dual-wave boluses and count the carbs and fat correctly… it’s going to happen again (unless we give up pizza, or learn to moderate our intake).

De-stressing, learning what we can about our conditions, doing our best to limit their deleterious effects upon ourselves and others, and returning to the basics of self-care and improved self-care will help us all to better manage our diabetes, avoid complications, and live longer and healthier lives.Yom Kippur is a good a time as any to remember and return to this path.

In this sense, tefillah, tzedakah, and tschuvah can “avert the fatal decree”.

For those of you who are fasting, may it be an easy one. And for all of us, may this new year be a sweet one, and one for blessings and good health.