The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim-Why? How? When?

The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim:[1]

A. The Mitzvah:

It is a Mitzvah to visit the sick.[2] Doing so helps revive the ill person[3] and by doing so one removes 1/60th of the illness if he shares the same Mazal as the ill patient.[4] [One who visits the sick fulfills a Rabbinical positive command and it is included within the command of Veahavta Lereiacha Kamocha.[5]]

Bikur Cholim versus Nichum Aveilim: The Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim is even greater than the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, [and hence takes precedence, if one is unable to perform both Mitzvos].[6] If, however, one is able to perform both Mitzvos, then one is to precede the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim to the Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim.[7]

B. When to visit:

Which day:[8] Family and friends may visit the ill person right away, while other individuals are only to visit after the passing of three days from when he fell ill.[9] If, however, death is imminent, then everyone may visit immediately.

What time during the day:[10] Ideally, one is not to visit the sick in the first three, and last three, hours of the day.[11] [Practically, however, today people are no longer careful in this matter.[12]]  

How often:[13] One may visit the ill even many times in one day, and the more one goes, the more he is praised, so long as one does not overburden the patient.

Bikur Cholim on Shabbos:[14] It is permitted to visit the sick on Shabbos.[15] Nevertheless [one is not to arrange to visit the sick specifically on Shabbos and is rather to arrange to visit him during the week as] it was with difficulty that the Sages allowed visiting the sick on Shabbos.[16] It is therefore improper to do like those who do not visit the sick throughout the week and visit him on Shabbos alone.[17] [If, however, one simply has no time to go during the week, and going on Shabbos will rejoice the ill person, then one is not to abstain from visiting him.[18]] See Halacha 5 regarding how to pray for the sick on Shabbos.

C. Who should one visit:

Every person is encouraged to visit an ill person. Even an adult should visit a child who is ill.[19] Even one who shares the same Mazal as the ill person[20] is to visit him [even though that by doing so, he contracts 1/60th of the illness[21]].[22]

An enemy:[23] One who is an enemy of the person who is ill, is not to visit him.

If difficult for the patient:[24] Certain illnesses make it difficult for the patient to be visited due to the embarrassment of the ill person, or due to his inability to speak, and in such a case, visitors are not to enter the room of the sick person but are rather communicate with him from the external room.

Gentile:[25] One is to visit an ill gentile due to Darkei Shalom. [This applies even if there are no Jewish patients who also need to be visited at the time.[26]]

D. How to visit:

Sitting down:[27] It is forbidden for the visitor to sit on a higher level than the ill person.[28] Thus, if the ill person is lying on the floor, he may not sit on a bench, char or bed, and is rather to sit on the floor. If, however, the ill person is on a bed or chair, then one may sit in front of him, and so is the custom.

What to do there:[29] Upon visiting an ill person one is to [listen to him discuss his painful situation[30] and] pray for him and arouse divine mercy on his behalf. One who visited the ill and did not arouse mercy for him, has not fulfilled the Mitzvah.[31] In addition, one is to help and assist the ill patient and fulfill his needs.[32] [This is the main purpose of the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim.[33]] See Halacha 5 for the full details of how to pray for the sick.

What not to do: One may not do, or say, things in the presence of the sick person that can lead him to have a broken heart and fear death.[34] Thus, one may not cry in front of the sick person regarding another person who passed away, even if the deceased is not a relative of the sick person.[35] [See Halacha 3] One is likewise not to say anything that can lead others who are present to begin to cry out of fear of his death, such as to begin saying Viduiy in their presence which can lead them to hysteria.[36]

 

The reward:[37]

One who visits the sick merits in the next world to be saved from judgment in Gehinnom, and in this world merits to be protected by Hashem. He is protected from the Yetzer Hara and from suffering.

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[1] Michaber 335:1; See Gesher Hachaim 1

[2] Michaber ibid; Bava Metzia 30b

[3] Shach 335:11 in name of Bach

[4] Shach 335:1; Taz 335:2; Bava Metzia 30b

[5] Rambam Avel 14:1

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that visiting the sick is considered a Biblical positive command of Gemilus Chassadim. [Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvos Shoresh Alef]

[6] Rama 335:10; Kol Bo

The reason: As in Nichum Aveilim one performs Chesed with both the mourners and the deceased. [See Rambam Avel 14:37; Bava Metzia 30b] Some Poskim in fact list this Mitzvah within the 248 positive commands. [Bahag]

[7] Shach 335:11 in name of Bach

[8] Michaber 335:1; See Likkutei Sichos 5:78

[9] The reason: In order not to spread the fact that he is sick and ruin his Mazal. [Taz 335:1; Bach 335]

[10] Michaber 335:4; Nedarim 40a

[11] The reason: As during the first three hours of the morning most sick people feel the healthiest, and hence the visitors will be less encouraged to plead for mercy on his behalf. However, during the last three hours of the day, his illness is most intense and may cause the visitors to give up hope and not pray for him. [Michaber ibid]

[12] Aruch Hashulchan 335:8; See “Mitzvas Bikur Cholim” Siman 5 [p. 121]; Dinei Aveilus 1:15

The reason: As this is not an obligation but merely good advice. [Aruch Hashulchan ibid]

[13] Michaber 335:2

[14] Admur 287:1 and 3

[15] Admur 287:1; Michaber 287:1; Shabbos 12a

[16] Admur 287:3; Shabbos 12b; M”A 287:1; Elya Raba 287:1; Machazik Bracha 287:3; Shaareiy Teshuvah 187:1; Kaf Hachaim 187:6

The reason: As this may lead one to become saddened together with the patient. [Admur ibid]

[17] Admur ibid; M”A 287:1; Machazik Bracha 287:3, brought in Shaareiy Teshuvah 187:1; Kaf Hachaim 187:1

[18] Shaareiy Teshuvah 187:1; Kaf Hachaim 187:1

[19] Michaber 335:2

[20] This is called “Ben Gilo” in the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, and is interpreted to mean one who shares the same Mazal, which means they were born the same time, by the same constellations. [Taz 335:2; Ran Nedarim 39b]

[21] Shach 335:1; Taz 335:2; Bava Metzia 30b

[22] Michaber ibid; Bava Metzia ibid

[23] Rama 335:2 unlike Maharil who rules an enemy may visit an ill person

[24] Michaber 335:8; Nedarim 41a; Shach 335:6-7 regarding one who suffers from an abdomen illness, in which it is embarrassing for him to be visited, and regarding one who suffers from a head ache or eye pain in which it is difficult for him to speak

[25] Michaber 335:9; Gittin 61a

[26] Shach 335:8

[27] Michaber and Rama 335:3; Shabbos 12b

[28] The reason: As the Shechina resides on top of the head of an ill person and one may not make himself higher than the Shechina. [Michaber and Rama ibid]

[29] Rama 335:4; Beis Yosef in name of Ramban; Nedarim 40a; See Michaber 335:8; “Mitzvas Bikur Cholim” Siman 5 [p. 121]

[30] Michaber 335:8

[31] Rama ibid

[32] Michaber 335:8; Shach 335:11 in name of Bach that by doing so one revives him; Machazik Bracha 287:3; Shaareiy Teshuvah 287:1; Kaf Hachaim 287:6; Aruch Hashulchan 335:3 based on Nedarim 40a that Rebbe Akiva swept and cleaned the floor for a sick person

[33] Machazik Bracha 287:3; Shaareiy Teshuvah 287:1; Kaf Hachaim 287:6; Aruch Hashulchan 335:3

[34] See Michaber 337:1 and 338:1

[35] Shach 337:2; Bach

[36] Michaber 338:1

[37] Nedarim 40a

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