It is said that when we do the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting someone who is ill, we take away 1/60th of their illness. The ancient Rabbis who made this statement understood the emotional side of illness, how sad and lonely it can be and how good it feels when people remember to visit, call or send a message. This lesson came to mind earlier this week as I dedicated one afternoon to visiting some congregants who are ill.
I visited four people who were all facing some personal challenges, and want to share some details of my visits while respecting their privacy. My first visit was with someone who is now on hospice and their family. We discussed the Jewish perspective on medical care at the end of life and that hospice is a very respectful way to care for someone and is very much in line with Jewish tradition. Nothing in Jewish law prevents someone from taking advantage of the great services provided by the excellent hospice programs in our area. We also talked about what happens we when pass away and how arrangements are made for a memorial service. Jewish tradition suggests that we delay making the plans and decisions related to the funeral until after the person passes away. For now, the best approach is to focus on the time we still have with our loved one and cherish the moments by their side. I assured them that those of us who are involved in funeral arrangements know how to respond when the time comes.
My next visit was with someone who recently lost his wife. We talked about the mourning process and how long it can take to heal. While it may take quite some time, there are a number of community resources to help - and his TJC community is here to help in any way that we can.
The third visit was with someone who recently left the hospital but now needs time in rehab so he can return to his normal routines. He was in very good spirits and we had a pleasant conversation about his family, the great care he is getting at the rehab facility, and how much he appreciated his wife being there by his side.
My last visit was perhaps the most powerful. Late in the afternoon, I sat by the bedside of a woman I've visited many times and with whom I talk about her love for the State of Israel and for her prior synagogue in northern New Jersey. She loves to tell me stories about her Rabbi and her years teaching young people about Israel. When I walked into the room and she realized her Rabbi was coming to see her, she immediately began speaking to me only in Hebrew. We spoke in Hebrew about what was happening today and about experiences she had years ago in Israel. I could sense that she was anxious about current events and a bit nervous about what might happen next. Knowing that she loves Israel and music, I began to play some classic Israeli songs on my smartphone. (Thank God for YouTube.) We spent time listening and singing along to Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (her favorite) Al Kol Eleh (my favorite) and many more great songs. After this musical "conversation,", I was sad that I needed to leave.
I share these experiences to inspire you to consider doing some form of Bikur Cholim. It can be a personal visit, a phone call, an email or a hand-written note. Whatever form we choose to do this mitzvah, it is critical to the healing process and it is what makes us a caring, warm community. When you see people stand in their place on Shabbat morning and say a name aloud during the Mishebayrach prayer, please consider asking them what is wrong - who is need of healing and can we do anything to help. If you know of a friend or a fellow congregant who is in or just came home from the hospital, please think about visiting or calling them to see if you can do anything to help. Also contact the synagogue, so we can reach out to them as well. Some people will improve, and some people need to just manage the physical and emotional challenges but in either case a visit or a phone call or a message can help so much. If you want, you can join our Chavurat Chesed and help us check in on our TJC family who need a visit. You can contact our office to be added to this committee.
In the early stories of Genesis, as Abraham is recovering and not feeling so well, God takes time to visit - notice it was God and not an angel or messenger. The Midrash says it was God who visited Abraham, so we too should do as God did and spend time with people who would benefit. Bring a story to tell, a smile to share or perhaps some good music you can play on your smartphone. You will see that it not only takes away a bit of their pain and discomfort, but it does something for you also.
Rabbi Adam Feldman