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).