For the week ending 19 November 2011 / 21 Heshvan 5772

Helping the Sick

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Question: I have heard that it is considered a very meritorious act to visit the sick. My experience in doing this has taught me how much such visits achieve in cheering up the patient. What is the right thing to do for the sick person in addition to just being there?

Answer: Just being there, say our Talmudic Sages, can have a healing effect, as the visitor removes one sixtieth of the illness in some mystical way. But there is certainly more that you can do. One of the main objectives of bikur cholim, as visiting the sick is known, is to discover what his medical needs are and to help provide them. This is certainly true when the visit is in a home, but even in a hospital there may be a need to alert a doctor or nurse to the special needs of the patient or to help him on or off his bed. The psychological and emotional support provided by just keeping him company also has an impact on his recovery. The visitor could also offer to run urgent errands that the patient has been unable to attend to such as paying bills.

One often overlooked opportunity to help the sick person when visiting him is to pray to Heaven for his recovery. While it is possible to pray for him wherever you are there is a special dimension to doing so when you are in his company. First of all we have a tradition that the Shechina — the Divine Presence — is at the head of the sick person’s bed. This allows us to be much closer to the objective of our prayers. There is also the consideration that when one actually sees the sick person in front of him he is inspired to a more sincere prayer.

Just remember that just saying "Refuah Shleima" ("Have a complete recovery") may be a nice parting remark but it is not a prayer. The proper text is to ask in any language that "Heaven send a Refuah Shleima to the patient together with all the other sick people of Israel."

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