Visiting the Sick
By Nachum Mohl
Not only is visiting the sick a very important thing, it is also a mitzvah. You might think that common sense things are obvious and don't really require a divine command, but none the less, visiting the sick is a commandment.
Some people feel uneasy about visiting the sick, perhaps you are not such a great friend or neighbor. Maybe you are not blessed with the gift of gab or feel self conscious about coming to visit. Yet when we think about the times that we have been sick and bed-ridden, how much we really appreciated the visit of that person even if we weren't so-so friendly with before. Being confined to bed is boring at the best and generally we do it not because we want the rest, but because we need the bed rest to recover from an illness or accident. Having some one to visit brings up the morale of the ailing and gives him/her more of a desire to recover. Besides cheering someone up, you make him or her feel important and concerned for.
Okay, what is involved in this mitzvah? Really the mitzvah is divided into two parts, concern for the physical well being of the ill, and praying for the welfare of that person. If you do only one of the two, (either visiting with out praying or praying for them but not visiting) means that you have not fulfilled the requirements for a mitzvah.
If the person has just become bed ridden, it is best to let the close friends and relatives visit for the first three days. After that, even causal acquaintances are encouraged to visit. Early in the day and late in the evening are not considered the best times to visit. It is considered very proper to visit often, of course, the condition of the patient must be taken into account.
You can think ahead, perhaps bring something that the person would be interested in reading, remembering that in a weakened condition, light reading is best. Food may also be welcomed. In visiting the sick, it is best not to ask if there is anything that you can bring, since the person may not want to request anything although he may need something. Perhaps you can suggest that you are willing to pick something up for them, or run an errand that now they are unable to do themselves. You never know what a person needs unless you ask.
Don't think that because his/her food requirements seem to be taken care of, that he/she is satisfied with that food that he receives. Bring food with out asking, if it is not desired, it will be still be appreciated. Just make certain that the food is in keeping with the patient's situation. Kosher hot tamales may not be the keenest idea for an ulcer patient.
In one community, a mother of a large family became ill. Since in this community there was a "Bikur Cholim" society, (a group whose goal is to visit the ill and provide for their material needs during an illness) the neighbors did not think it necessary to bring food. Unfortunately, this "Bikur Cholim" society did not cook in consideration of the family's taste. They made their own institutionalized food, which did not match the taste buds of the family. Subsequently, the children refused to eat the food provided and the father was forced to shop and cook for his sick wife, children, and eventually ran himself down.
The neighbors did not busy themselves to inquire into their neighbor's situation, since they assumed that they were well taken care of. The message is simple: don't assume all is provided for. Bring some food. Ask if you can help with something. You may be surprised that picking up something here or helping a child with this or that can be a big help for the sick person.
When you go to the hospital to visit, besides being cheerful to the person that you have come to visit, extend yourself and say hello to the other patients. Seeing a cheery face is contagious. Say hello and be friendly to the other patients. You never know - they may need some help too.
There is a story about a Rabbi on the West Coast who made it his business to visit the Jewish patients at a certain hospital which was not in a Jewish area. Almost everyday he would visit a terminally ill patient and chat for twenty minutes to a half-hour. In the next bed was a very ill non-Jewish woman. The Rabbi would always smile and include her in the conversation. She told him that she was very ill also but that her children had no time to visit her and she was very sad. Even after the terminally ill Jewish patient died, but the Rabbi continued to come by to visit this gentile woman and they became friendly.
After a long illness, this gentile woman died. Afterwards the Rabbi was surprised to learn that she had left the Rabbi's institution over a million dollars and to her own children, she left only ten thousand dollars each. Now the Rabbi had no idea that this woman was wealthy, he only knew that her children did not visit her. He carried on visiting her and showing her that he cared for her because she was important to him.
No one can expect that a reward will be in store for you for fulfilling the mitzvah of visiting the sick, but all mitzvahs have their reward in the next world.
When visiting the sick patient, the visitor should make a small prayer for the patient. If possible he should use the Jewish name of the patient, such as Rivka bas Rachel, including the patient's mother's name also. If the Jewish name is not known, then their English names may be used. On the Shabbat, the prayer is not made, but rather, we say, the Shabbat is not for crying to G-d, the Shabbat is itself a healing.
Once you get into visiting the sick, try to encourage others to take part in this important mitzvah. Few mitzvoth spread unity and friendship like visiting the ill.
One person, so much into visiting the sick, decided that on their daughter's birthday, instead of spending a lot of money on a party, to dedicate it to sick children. The mother and daughter bought presents and candies and distributed to the ill in the children's wing of a hospital. It is hard to describe the happiness of the children who received such small presents. For the birthday girl it was an extra special birthday that will never be forgotten.
You will be surprised to learn that visiting the sick will help bring not just a relief from the illness, but even make new friendships.
from the November 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine