Visiting the Sick in Judaism

Aware as we may be of the importance of visiting and assisting people who are ill, we still have to overcome our fears and hesitations in order to perform this mitzvah.

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3. We are uncomfortable in one another’s presence. We rarely reveal our personal concerns, hopes, and fears to other people. Rarely do we share the issues and goals that motivate one another’s lives. Instead, we seek ways to be distracted together. We watch movies, television shows, or plays in silence. We find activities that fill our moments with other people -- in sports or culture or eating. Visiting someone who is sick precludes all of these escapes from direct, personal interaction. At a sickbed, there is no alternative but to speak with one another, and doing this often forces one to delve into fundamental concerns and questions. At a hospital, the distraction of activities cannot provide an escape from the discomfort we feel in the presence of another human being.

For all of these reasons, and for countless personal ones, a chasm separates the discomfort we feel in the presence of illness from our recognition of the importance of bikkur holim. Confronting our fears and our frailty can bring us an acceptance of reality. It can help us appreciate every day of life as a gift and a blessing, and it can bring about a deeper involvement with our families and communities. The sense of concern and hope that a sick person receives from bikkur holim is impossible to provide in any other way. Only the visit and attention of a friend, relative, or member of the community can inspire the sick with the knowledge that they are not alone, that they are not abandoned.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.