Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi Meir's commentary Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
VISITING THE SICK
At the beginning of our parsha we learn that HaShem appeared to Avraham (Bereshit 18:1). Rashi explains that He came to visit the sick. Visiting the sick is considered one of the greatest acts of human kindness, and, partially based on our parsha, one of the ways in which humans can cleave to the ways of G-d.
In order to understand the many sayings of our Sages about the importance and nature of visiting the sick, we have to preface one basic insight. Our Sages definitely did not view illness as something natural. Illness, as a deviation from the normal, is considered a time of extraordinary providence a time when HaShem is examining us more carefully.
On the one hand this special providence carries a special danger: A person
On the other hand HaShems scrutiny is a kind of privilege, and we learn that the Divine presence supports the sick person and stands over his bed (Shabbat 12b). For this reason when we visit the sick we shouldn't sit much elevated over him (SA YD 335:3).
The main mitzva of visiting the sick is to tend to the needs of the sick person. This is evident from the Hebrew term bikur cholim whose literal meaning is not visiting the sick but rather looking after them. This obviously has a positive effect on the sick persons condition.
But visiting the sick also has a spiritual effect on the patients condition. Our Sages explain that performing acts of kindness is a way of cleaving to the Divine presence, because we are going in the ways of G-d Who constantly acts with loving kindness towards His creatures (Sota 14a). In this way the aspect of Divine kindness is among us, as it is aroused through our own actions, and this affects the judgment of the sick person.
ONE OF HIS COHORT
We already explained that sickness is an occasion for judgment and scrutiny. When someone of the sick persons cohort also visits the sick person and groups himself together with him, it is as if he is inviting to be judged together with him. On the one hand, this brings upon the visitor part of the illness. On the other hand, it ameliorates the misfortune on the whole, because it is basic principle of Judaism that the community is judged more leniently than the individual.
Rabbi Meir has recently completed writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha.
Rabbi Meir authors a popular weekly on-line Q&A column, "The Jewish Ethicist", which gives Jewish guidance on everyday ethical dilemmas in the workplace. The column is a joint project of the JCT Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev; and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own questions, at www.jewishethicist.com or at www.aish.com.