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The Laws of Visiting the Sick

The Laws of Visiting the Sick

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The commandment of visiting the sick (bikkur cholim) is a very great good deed. Concerning this mitzvah, the Mishnah states that this is one of those actions of which one “eats of its fruits” in this world, and retains the “principle” in the next world.

According to certain opinions, this is a biblical mitzvah, based upon the verse “And you shall walk in His ways.”1 According to others (including Maimonides), it is a rabbinical commandment. Yet others maintain that this is a mitzvah which is a law that was handed down to Moses at Sinai (halachah le-Moshe mi-Sinai). Maimonides states that the commandment of visiting the sick is also an aspect of the mitzvah of “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”2

• There is no limit to the amount of times that one can fulfill this commandment, or to the level of its fulfillment, provided that one does not become too bothersome for the sick person. Most of the time, a short visit is preferable. One needs to take the status and the desires of the sick person into consideration.

• One should not limit visits to only those who are older and/or greater. Those who are younger or not as great also need visiting.

• If there are two sick patients, one who has many visitors and the other a few or none, one should preferably visit the latter person.

• Opinions vary as to whether one should visit a person whom he hates. According to some, he should avoid visiting, since it may appear as if he is rejoicing over the other’s illness. The best thing is to inform the sick person through a third party that you would like to visit him. If it is acceptable to the patient, you may visit him, for this may be the beginning of a peace process.

• No blessing is said when performing the commandment of visiting the sick.

• Not all patients are in a position to receive visitors. Under such circumstances, one should inquire of the relatives whether it is okay to visit; and even then, try to keep the visit short. It is also necessary to have a sixth sense and realize when one is overstaying. In a situation where a patient is not ready for visitors, visiting can still be accomplished by staying in the foyer or hallway, and helping out family members or saying Psalms on behalf of the person.

• Although most aspects of visiting the sick can be fulfilled only with a personal visit, if one is not able to do a personal visit, he can fulfill the mitzvah with a phone call.

• Enter the room of the sick person in a positive mood. Do not display any moods of sadness or melancholy, as this could affect the welfare of the patient.

• One should not bring bad tidings to a sick person.

• If one needs to fulfill the commandments of visiting the sick and consoling a mourner (nichum aveilim), and he is able only to do one or the other, then preference is given to the mitzvah of consoling a mourner.

• Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz, the holy Shaloh, writes that the commandment of visiting the sick involves three components: with one’s body (beguf), with one’s soul (benefesh) and with one’s money (bemamon).

  1. With one’s body: Not only should you pay a personal visit, but you should also do actual things which will uplift the spirit and the comfort of the patient. This can be accomplished in a number of ways; bringing him material to read, bringing her food (especially if the patient is in a hospital where she might avoid eating many of the foods due to kashrut concerns), helping raise or lower the bed, brightening up the room, etc. When a patient is in a hospital, there are more opportunities for doing this aspect, since nurses do not always have enough time to deal with patients. [As mentioned earlier, one must use common sense, and not overstay a visit, or visit at inopportune times.]
  2. With one’s soul: by praying and saying Psalms for the sick. Don’t forget to wish and bless the sick with a speedy recovery (“refuah sheleimah”) before leaving. Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Rema, writes that a person who visits the sick and does not pray for him has not fulfilled this commandment. The Talmud3 states that one who is able to pray for the sick and does not is called a sinner. [Thus, if Psalms are being said in synagogue for a sick person, it is important to participate.]
  3. With one’s money: If the sick person is having financial difficulties covering his medical expenses, then one should help him. This also will help bring the sick person a bit of peace of mind. [It would seem to me that included in this component would be giving charity on behalf of the sick person.]
FOOTNOTES
1. In Hebrew, vehalachta bidrachav. Deuteronomy 28:9.
2. In Hebrew, ve-ahavta le-rei’acha kamocha. Lev. 19:18.
3. Berachot 12b.
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Discussion (7)
June 4, 2013
Time
What is the best time to visit the sick?
Yovi
Budapest
August 6, 2009
For Julian
When there is life there is hope! One never knows what can happen, while she is alive she is deserving of prayers and good thoughts, so do feel free to pray for her regardless of the serious situation she finds herself in.
I think your presence will be a big comfort to her and the family. Be there. Talk to her, reminisce about fun times you had together. Just be there. Let's hear good news.
Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org
August 5, 2009
Respect their wishes
If the person does not want visitors one should respect his/her wishes and perhaps offer to help in other ways such as helping with bills, shopping, children etc fielding calls.
Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org
August 5, 2009
modifications
My friend's mother has a month left to live. She has a cancer that was going to kill her anyway (though much later), but now it has gone to her brain. In addition to losing cognitive function (and memories etc.), she will die sooner than expected (hence the one month diagnosis). I want to do something, but I have questions resulting from reading this. First of all, while I am Jewish, this woman is not Jewish (and neither is my friend, her son). Secondly, she is dying with no realistic chance of recovery, so praying for her to be healed physically seems like it doesn't apply. Thirdly, since she is not really there, so to speak (from the reduction in cognitive function due to the cancer going to her brain), how can I truly console her or even carry on a happy conversation with her that would have any positive effect?
Any response would be much appreciated.
Julian
New Orleans, LA
August 4, 2009
visiting the sick
What should one to do if a sick person has made it clear that he/she is too ill to receive a visitor?
Orah
Santa Cruz, CA/USA
October 4, 2006
Kohen visiting sick
Any problem with a kohen visiting sick, in a hospital for instance where people die daily? I would think the mitzvah of visiting sick overcomes the problem of being in same building as dead people?
Anonymous
La Jolla, CA/USA
May 17, 2006
Sharing strength with an ill person
My neighbor has an emotional illness and peace between myself and her and, others has not really been there for an extended period of time. While talking to her I acted like I wasn't suprised by things I was told, and also I asked her why she was surprised at the problems she has. In a respectful way, she listened and I praised her for showing a healthy resignation to all the things weighing her down. Just not acting surprised gave strength, I know, because she says she likes me.
Anonymous
Vancouver, Canada
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