How To Visit the Sick in Judaism
A rabbi offers advice about how to perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick with wisdom, discretion, and sensitivity.
Abridged from It’s a Mitzvah!, published by Behrman House and the Rabbinical Assembly, 1995. © Behrman House, Inc., reprinted with permission.
1. Upon discovering that someone is sick, send a brief card or a note. Rather than allowing a silence to isolate the sick if you cannot visit quickly, send a note, even a brief one, to provide a sense of contact. Almost every hospital room I’ve visited has cards displayed proudly where the sick person can see them; they are a reminder that people do care.
2. Alert the sick person’s rabbi. Although a visit from a rabbi is often appreciated, many people forget to notify the synagogue when someone is ill. Before doing so, be sure to consider whether the patient will be upset by having his or her illness made public.
3. Plan to visit the sick. The physical presence of caring people can banish loneliness and provide tangible evidence of a concerned community. A close friend or family member should visit immediately. If the hospitalization will be protracted, others should wait a day or two before visiting. For shorter stays, it is certainly appropriate to visit sooner.
4. Don’t plan on a long visit. Hospital patients have a busy schedule, and sick people often tire easily. It is better to visit briefly but repeatedly than to visit once for a long time. When the patient tires, leave courteously with a promise to return another time.
5. Schedule your visit appropriately. The Talmud counsels not to visit the sick early in the morning or late at night. Most hospitals have visiting hours in order to enable doctors and nurses to perform their tasks unencumbered. Be sure to respect such restrictions.
6. Before visiting the patient, phone ahead to let him or her know you are coming. This simple gesture creates the anticipation of a visit, giving the sick person that much more pleasure. Calling in advance also puts the patient in charge. Being sick often results in a forced passivity. When you phone and ask if it is all right to visit, the patient is able to exercise some control.
7. Prepare for a visit carefully and thoughtfully.
· Don’t wear perfume or after-shave lotion. Illness often makes people more sensitive to smell, and artificial odors can be disturbing to the person who is sick.
· Don’t bring bad news. Try to restrict topics to those that will make the patient feel good.
· Select one or two topics for discussion. (See number 12.)Preparing yourself in this way can help you feel ready to sit and talk.