Bikkur Holim - The Power of Visiting the Sick
This week as part of our 52 weeks of mitzvot, we are highlighting the mitzvah of Bikkur Holim, visiting the sick. The mitzvah of visiting the sick is so important, and so powerful, that the Torah does not even bother with a mere command from God to do this mitzvah, but instead God models it for us directly.
There is a story in Genesis that God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and all the members of his household to enter them, the covenant, the brit, with God. Immediately after performing the surgery we read that Abraham was sitting outside his tent in the warmth of the day under the terebinths of Mamre. The midrash tells us that the reason Abraham was sitting outside that day was because he was still recovering from his surgery. Suddenly, three strangers appear walking on the road near Abraham’s tent. We are told the purpose of these visitors coming to Abraham was as God’s emissaries in doing bikkur holim, comforting the sick.
Often times people see bikkur holim as the function of the clergy. But, in fact, we are all commanded to visit the sick. When people are tired, aching, ill, and in pain, the affect a visit from a friend can have is immeasurable.
To be sure, there is an etiquette and protocol to visiting someone who is sick, but if you followed these guidelines outlined by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson in It’s a Mitzvah, it will make the visit effortless.
Upon hearing that someone is sick, send a brief note or card, or email.
It isn’t always easy to get to see someone right away, a short note can help in the interim.
Alert the sick person’s clergy.
People do not always think to alert their clergy, but often benefit greatly from having the rabbi or cantor visit to recite a prayer of healing.
Plan to visit the sick.
Don’t plan a long visit.
Schedule your visit appropriately.
Tests and procedures are often performed in the earlier hours of the day.The later afternoon and early evening hours are often quieter times.
Before visiting the patient, phone ahead and let him/her know you will be coming.
By calling first you serve two purposes, it cheers the person up just anticipating the visit, even before you get there. Secondly, it gives the patient the opportunity to let you know if it is not a good time to visit.
Prepare for the visit carefully and thoughtfully.
Do not wear perfumes, colognes or aftershave.
Do not bring bad news.
Select a few discussion topics before showing up.
Bring a small, practical gift, a magazine or a newspaper or paperback book. Consider bringing a poster or picture the person might hang up in the room.
Before entering the patients room, be sure to knock and ask for permission to enter.
There is very little privacy in hospitals. The little you can do to help someone regain control of their environment can go a long way.
If there are already many visitors, wait outside until a few people leave.
When visiting help with concrete tasks.
Try to be with the patient during a meal.
Don’t feel you have nothing to talk about; Don’t be afraid to sit in silence.
Offer your hand.
Offer to pray with the patient.
If you follow these simple steps it will help make for a meaningful visit for the patient and for you. If you are interested in becoming part of our own Bikkor Cholim/Caring Committee, please be in touch with Rabbi Tecktiel.