49 - Visiting the Sick part 1

One of the ways we emulate HaShem is by visiting the sick, as HaShem Himself visited Avraham Avinu.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Strive to keep your word on something you’ve said you would do, even if you didn’t promise.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #49




One of the ways we emulate HaShem is by visiting the sick, as HaShem Himself visited Avraham Avinu.  When we visit the sick, attend to their needs and daven for their recovery, we fulfill both of the positive mitzvos of V’Ahavta L’Rayacha Kamocha – ‘Love Your Fellow Jew as You Love Yourself’ and V’Halachta Bidrachav – ‘You should walk in His ways’.  In a case where the visit is crucial and life-saving, we also fulfill the mitzvos of V’Chai Achicha Imach – ‘saving a life’; V’Hashayvosa -- ‘returning a lost object’, which according to Chazal, includes saving someone’s life; and Lo Sa’amod Al Dam Ray’acha – ‘not standing by while someone’s blood is being shed’.

A person who visits the sick is promised great reward.  He will be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom, protected from the yetzer hara and treated with respect by all.  In contrast, laziness in visiting the sick is considered tantamount to murder. (Mishpetei Hashalom 14:1)

Everyone is obligated to visit the sick.  Even dignified and revered people should visit simple people.  If necessary we should visit the patient even several times a day, the more the better, as long as we are careful not to burden the patient.  Keep in mind, however, that when a person becomes ill, it is usually not beneficial for him to have all types of visitors come and go indiscriminately.  Relatives and close friends who spend time with the patient regularly should visit him immediately; he relies on their help and benefits from their company even when he is weak.  Less familiar acquaintances would do better to wait until three days have passed before visiting the patient.  However, if he takes a sudden turn for the worse, then even more distant friends should visit him without delay.  We are permitted to visit the choleh on Shabbos.  Ideally, however, we should not put off visiting the sick until Shabbos just because it is a convenient, free day.  Rather, we should make an effort to do our main visiting during the week.

The mitzva of bikur cholim is not limited to matters relating to physical and/or medical assistance.  There are actually four main components to the mitzva of bikur cholim:

1)  Taking care of the patient’s physical needs

2)  Giving him emotional support by showing that you share his pain

3)  Praying for him in his presence

4)  Divesting him of a sixtieth of his illness.

Therefore, we should fulfill this mitzva not only when the patient is poor and may lack doctors, medicines, or adequate food and heating, but even when the patient is wealthy and we can assume he is getting the best medical care and attention.  Similarly, when a patient is obviously being well-tended by family or hospital staff and there is nothing for us to do to support him physically, we would still be obliged to visit him; he still is in need of our prayers and emotional support.  

If we are not able to visit the sick person, we should still try to send a message or a letter, or even to phone him.  Even though this may not be a complete fulfillment of the mitzva, it accomplishes the purpose of the mitzva in part and is certainly a form of chessed.

Since the whole purpose of visiting is to help the choleh, we should be sensitive to the patient’s needs and not visit someone who may find it a burden to have visitors.  This would include cholim with embarrassing stomach disorders, patients who find it difficult to converse, or those who suffer from severe headaches, eye strains or any other uncomfortable symptoms.  For such cholim, carrying on a friendly interchange may be more straining that invigorating.  However, it is still important to show our concern.  Therefore, we can remain outside his room, inquire warmly about how he is feeling and whether all his needs are being taken care of, hear the patient’s suffering, and pray for him from there.   (Mishpetei Hashalom 14;4-5, 17)

(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

I couldn’t believe the basic lack of common decency I witnessed with my second grade students last week when an awful accident occurred during recess that day.

“Ooh, gross!  Look at his eye!” my student Shlomo screamed to his classmates after noticing his classmate Yossi’s eye injury.  “Uch!  Your eye is gushing blood!  I can’t even look!” said another boy. 

Yossi didn’t know what hit him....literally.  Not one to participate in the daily baseball game at recess, Yossi preferred reading a novel with a bag of pretzels in hand while the rest of the class was up to bat.  Rarely did he look up to watch the goings on in the courtyard but when he heard the class scream, “YOSSI, WATCH OUT!” he turned.  But it was not with enough time to save himself from the flying bat that one careless classmate flung across home plate.  

Yossi was hit square in the face and was left in a daze, not totally coherent and definitely in need of immediate medical attention.  I summoned the school nurse who promptly placed a call to 911.  Within 5 minutes we heard the sirens and a minute later, Yossi was surrounded by throngs of people.  

“Attention all students.  Please leave the courtyard immediately and return to your classrooms at once.”  The principal attempted to restore decorum to the chaos that had started to form.

“Why should we leave?  This is so cool!”  I heard another student remark.  “Look at all those machines!  Can we stay and watch?”  

“Absolutely not!”  I replied and knew exactly what I’d need to speak to my class about the following day.  Dismissal time was approaching and I needed time to gather my thoughts to impress upon the boys the importance of sensitivity to others at all times, but especially during a medical emergency.

Once at home and having heard the news that Yossi had suffered a mild concussion and would recover with time and a few stitches, I began to reflect on the day’s events and how I could appropriately address the boys the following day.  I first wanted to delve into their mindset and figure out why they wouldn’t naturally have the basic sensitivity to mind their own business rather than give in to curiosity.  

After reflecting upon it for a while I came to the realization that it’s actually an issue I had myself as well.  How often had I caught myself glancing at the doctor’s scheduling book to see if I knew any other patients who had appointments that day? How many times had I prepared a meal for someone and while leaving the bags of chicken and rice on the kitchen counter, looked around to attempt to figure out what was actually going on in the house?

I came to the realization that I too had a very strong pull to know “everything” about someone who is sick, when that isn’t what they needed from me.  When there is a car accident on the highway, the victim needs a clear road so help can get to him, not dozens of rubbernecking cars.  Staying where we might be in the way or cause the patient distress or embarrassment is the opposite of the precepts of bikur cholim. 

As I prepared my talk for the following day, I knew it would be a powerful one, because although I may not have been the one staring into the ambulance, I have certainly done similar things.  We do a tremendous act of kindness when we give a sick person space and time to share what and when they choose.  

Discussion Question Options:

What are common mistakes we make regarding sensitivities to those who are sick?

How do we know when to push to get information in order to help and when to keep our distance?

What are some ways to do bikur cholim for a choleh who wants to maintain his or her privacy?

Stretch of the Week:

When visiting or inquiring about someone who is ill, be mindful of their desire for privacy.


Stretch Of The Week