Visiting the sick
by Deanna Levine
The Ladies' Tikkun on Monday, 21st May 2018 (2nd day of Shavuot, 5776)
Held by courtesy of Rabbi Hackenbroch and Gila in their beautiful home
My D’var Torah is based on the short but illuminating book by Rabbi Tsvi G Schur
“Illness and Crisis: Coping the Jewish Way”.
Visiting an ill person (bikur cholim) is one of the greatest mitzvos (good deeds) a person can do. The Talmud states (Nedarim 39) that there’s no limit to the mitzvah of visiting the sick. Quoting Rabbi Akiva, it also teaches that, whoever does not visit the ill, is as though he or she has committed murder. Why such a strong statement by this great scholar and saint?
He explains: Whoever does not visit the ill lends, in fact, to an individual's suffering because the ill person, who is already depressed, now also feels unwanted and lonely. If his or her friends are not there for the patient, then what meaning does life have? It’s a psychologically proven fact that if a person loses the will to live, he or she begins to refuse treatment, does not eat properly, thereby hastening death. Is it possible that the friend or family member, by not visiting, is contributing even to a minute extent to the individual's death?
We can grow more if we are concerned about others. We should see that they are treated as we would wish to be in such a situation. Visiting a patient is not the time to relate one's own problems. The visitor must leave the patient with encouragement and not with further worries. Visitors and families must also be sensitive to the realization that illness and crisis can alter the personalities of people. Medication and pain can cause the patient unintentionally to offend a friend or beloved family member. Words said under severe stress should not be taken to heart, but as just a release of frustration and fears.
Jewish law states (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 193:1) that if there’s an ongoing disagreement between two people, one should not visit the other when he or she is sick, as it may disrupt the patient's healing process. If a person wants to bring about a reconciliation, family members should be spoken to first to get permission from the patient for such a visit.
In the process of recovery, one must have will, desire, and fight. Those who visit patients make their battles easier to win, for there’s no limit to the psycho-social and spiritual support that a family or visitor can contribute.
The mitzvah of visiting the sick is of enormous magnitude. Why so? Because it has the potential of bringing out the best in us as human beings.