Parshat Re’he

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אַחֲרֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם תֵּלֵכוּ

You shall follow after the Lord your God.

The talmudic rabbis understood this verse as mandating us to emulate God’s actions and attributes as much as possible (Sotah 14a). Therefore as God visited Abraham shortly after he was circumsised, thus providing the first instance of bikur cholim, we are expected to visit the sick.

This is not always an easy mitzvah to perform, maybe because our modern society tends to promote images of people who are young and healthy. In addition other people’s frailty and serious illnesses remind us of our own mortality.

Despite having seen my father’s visiting a number of sick and old people whether in hospital or because they were confined to their homes, it took me a while to start and perform this commandment.

Thus a few years ago when I tried to reach a cousin I hadn’t seen in years, her sister told me that she was in a psychiatric clinic due to bipolar disorders. I felt ashamed of having lost contact for some time and decided to go and see her.

A few months later when I visited an aunt, the latter told me that my cousin had been very happy with my visits and that knowing that her relatives cared had helped her a great deal. Besides we have kept in touch since. She now lives in Vietnam and I am delighted to know that she has found a more balanced way of life.

Two years ago, one of my aunts died but she was able to stay at home for very long thanks to friends and relatives who took turns to visit and stay with her for a few days. At the time, her children expressed their gratitude at all the generous people who had provided so much care and affection but also greatly helped them. One of my cousin lives in the States and was only able to stay with her mom for a few days while her sister has four children who were quite young at the time.

Both testimonies conforted me with the idea that bikur cholim is an essential mitzvah. They also taught me that showing your appreciation for the visits, if you are able to do so, will encourage visitors to perform other acts of gemilut chasadim (loving kindness).

For references and practical advice on the laws of bikur cholim, you can check A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2 by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, pages 62-91.

It’s a Mitzvah, pages 62-73, by Bradley Shavit Artson is a very practical guide and might prove useful to those who feel uneasy visiting a sick person.

The Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council has a useful and exhaustive website.

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6 thoughts on “Parshat Re’he

  1. Bikur Cholim is indeed a wonderful mitzvah. I do think people need to be honest with themselves in approaching the mitzvah. Some are more likely to feel vulnerable themselves and thus may have difficulty in doing so.

    I remember when my father was briefly in the hospital, I was so thankful that my husband and brother went to visit him, as I had already visited him twice. Emotionally, those two days wiped me out.

    How nice that you connected with a cousin who needed support.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post. Bikur cholim can, indeed, be very difficult to do, but I think that when it’s performed properly, it’s one of those mitzvot which benefit the giver as much as the receiver.

  3. Yes indeed, it is a draining thing to do, but so worthwhile for both you, and the recipient.

    I am sorry to hear about your aunt, but it sounds as if the family and friends made her time as good as it could be. This was what we tried to do for my grandma, although living so far away from her meant my contribution was woefully small. I miss her.

  4. Bikur cholim is a draining mitzvah, and, especially if you are visiting a close relative.

    The rewards are unlimited, though, and the memories invaluable.

    I remember visiting my mother, on an almost daily basis the year before she died, when she was in the hospital…there are some extremely poignant and joyous moments I will never forget.

    I’m sorry to hear about your aunt.

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