Bikkur Holim Texts

רבי אליעזר חלש

על לגביה רבי יוחנן

חזא דהוה קא גני בבית אפל גלייה לדרעיה ונפל נהורא חזייה דהוה קא בכי ר' אליעזר

א"ל אמאי קא בכית? אי משום תורה דלא אפשת שנינו? אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים. ואי משום מזוני? לא כל אדם זוכה לשתי שלחנות. ואי משום בני דין גרמא דעשיראה ביר?

א"ל להאי שופרא דבלי בעפרא קא בכינא א"ל על דא ודאי קא בכית ובכו תרוייהו.

אדהכי והכי א"ל חביבין עליך יסורין א"ל לא הן ולא שכרן א"ל הב לי ידך יהב ליה ידיה ואוקמיה.

Once Rabbi Eleazar fell ill.

Rabbi Yochanan went to visit him. Rabbi Eleazar was poor and lay in a dark room with no windows.

Rabbi Yochanan bared his arm and light radiated from him, filling the room with light as he entered to be with Rabbi Eleazar. Thereupon he noticed that Rabbi Eleazar was weeping.

He asked: “Why do you weep?” “Is it because you have not studied enough Torah? Surely we have learned that the one who studies much and the one who studies little have the same merit as long as their heart is directed towards heaven. Is it because of your lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to enjoy both learning and wealth. Is it because you lack children?”

Rabbi Eleazar replied, “I am weeping because of your beauty, which will one day rot in the earth.” Rabbi Yochanan replied, “On that account you surely have reason to weep.” And they both wept.

After a while Rabbi Yochanan asked Rabbi Eleazar, “Are your sufferings welcome to you?” He replied, “Neither they nor their reward are welcome to me.” Whereupon Rabbi Yochanan said, “Give me your hand.” Rabbi Eleazar gave Rabbi Yochanan his hand and that is how he raised him.

Questions for reflection:

1. Have you ever experienced illness as a “wake-up call”? Has a supportive relationship ever helped you in time of illness or suffering? Have you ever visited someone who was sick? How did it make you feel? Do you think that bikur cholim is an easy or hard mitzvah? Why?

2. Do you think that prayer is appropriate when visiting one who is ill? Have you ever found yourself praying with/for a sick person?

3. What are your personal rules regarding what to say or what not to say when visiting a sick person? Is it necessary to talk with the patient all the time one is visiting? When would “silence be golden”?

Adapted from Ronald H. Isaacs, A Taste of Text: An Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (New York: UAHC Press, 2003), 1-7. [Source]

Rabbinic Sources/Rules of Bikkur Holim:

The purpose of visiting the sick is to alleviate suffering; according to one rabbinic saying, the visitor relieves the ill person of one sixtieth of his suffering.

(Leviticus Rabbah 34)

Aware that the presence of visitors might instead become a burden or cause embarrassment for the sick person, there are rules governing this mitzvah:

* Wait a while before visiting someone who falls ill, so as not to give the patient the impression that the illness is grave. All but close relatives and friends are advised to postpone a first visit until the third day of the illness — unless that illness is indeed serious.

* Visit often, but do not impose a burden on the patient and his or her caretakers.

* Exercise good judgement regarding the time of day when you visit: in the early hours of the morning, medical professionals are usually attending to the patient, and in the evening the sick person is usually tired.

* Use discretion regarding whether you should visit: an ailing enemy may interpret a visit as gloating over his misfortune.

The mitzvah of bikkur holim, visiting the sick, extends to people of all ethnic and religious groups. (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 335:1).