Bikur Cholim: An Important and Meaningful Mitzvah
At the beginning of Parshat Vayerah, we read that Hashem appeared to Avraham. Rashi explains that G-d was performing the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick), as Avraham was recuperating from his recent circumcision. When we visit the sick, we are not only doing kindness for our fellow human being. We are emulating Hashem.
One of the main purposes of Bikur Cholim is to pray for the sick person; it is like giving him life. Accordingly, one could visit a total stranger, or someone who is unaware of the visit. The same is true for visiting a young baby. In addition, one should see to it that the sick person has all his/her needs taken care of and make sure he has all the necessary medical supplies. This might include shopping for the person. Making the sick person happy is also included in the mitzvah. Hashem visited Avraham after his circumcision, but we do not find that He said anything to him. Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l shows from here that one does not have to say anything to the sick person. Just one’s presence can be sufficient.
According to our Sages, illness is a time of increased Divine Providence. This status has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, such
may include an extra degree of
scrutiny of the ill person’s merits. As the Talmud (Shabbat 32b) states, “A
person should always pray that he should not get sick; for if he does, he is
told ‘Bring a merit and free yourself.”
On the other hand, Hashem’s enhanced scrutiny of an ill person can be
viewed as a privilege. Earlier in Masechet Shabbat (12b) it states that
the Divine Presence supports ill people and resides over their beds. This fact
is reflected in the Halacha, mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch,
that when visiting a sick person one should not sit higher than the patient,
because that is the height-level of the Divine Presence as well. Providence
The Talmud states that one who performs the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim merits four blessing: s/he is saved from the Yetzer Harah, and from suffering; s/he will be honored, and blessed with faithful friends. The Maharal explains that these blessings are chosen because they correspond to the experience of a sick person. Ill people are generally not bothered by the Evil Inclination. And as a direct result of a visit, a person’s suffering is alleviated. Patients will feel honored by a visitor, and be comforted by the thought that there are people who are thinking of them.
This explanation of the Maharal emphasizes one of the unique characteristics of Chesed activities in general, and Bikur Cholim in particular. The more we give of ourselves, the more we are enriched and gain from the experience.
Bikur cholim is one of the mitzvot which merits a reward in this world and retains the main reward for Olam Habah (Artscroll Siddur pg. 16). I urge all of us to find ways to be involved in this incredibly important and fulfilling mitzvah.