Visiting the Sick

Visiting the Sick (Visiter les malades)


I’m not a religious person and I dont follow the commandments, but  from time to time I marvel at the wisdom and simplicity inherent in them.

Having gone through feet surgery five days ago, I received a number of lovely wishes for speedy recovery; a number of visitors;  and a number of offers to come and visit and help.

Fortunately for me, my husband is very adept at taking care of me and he’s very resourceful. At the same time, some unexpected offers for help touched me because they came from people who I’m not so close to. All that’s to say that like I always do I started thinking of how other people react to a friend’s illness, and how I react.

I remember a friend telling me that I did not show enough compassion when I called her after she went through some unpleasant test.  Then there was another friend who had the flu who told me that she expected to hear more caring in my voice.

So in thinking about not being able to walk nor drive, and trying to put other people in my shoes (I swear I didn’t intend this as a pun), I figured that quite often we behave in the way we want someone to treat us when we are sick. But as I thought about it I remembered many exceptions to the rule and I decided I didn’t know what other people truly want.

The reality is Sometimes I rush to visit someone; and other times I think that they really want to be left alone. But these are all assumptions. I don’t know what’s in their heart.

That’s when I remembered the commandment of Visiting the Sick – Bikur Cholim (ביקור חולים) and marveled at how regulating human behavior has its merits. Yup, kind of hard to believe that these words actually came out of my mouth but they did and I stand firmly behind them.

We humans are so prone to errors, miscalculations and assumptions that we waste precious time and energy trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. However, the religious Jew or the religious Moslem, for instance, does not. It’s spelled out for him/her. There’s a code of behavior towards God and our fellow-man. Case closed.

Yes, the sick may not be in the mood for a visit, they may already have too much food from friends and family, but visiting for even a short time is fulfilling the commandment; and you don’t need to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing or not. And in this day of FaceBook, texting, emails and the archaic instrument we call telephone, it’s so easy to lose the human touch  the physical touch.  And, I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

There’s no doubt that regardless of whether you believe the code of behavior was given by God, was Godinspired or simply written by sages who gathered generations of wisdom wisdom it is! I, the heathen that I am, believe in the sages, but that’s neither here nor there.  The commandments and the code of ethics contain timeless instructions on how to be, thus resolving any doubts as to what’s appropriate behavior.

So next time when in doubt, I’ll simply follow the commandment. As we say here quite often:  If it won’t help, it won’t hurt.


From Wikipedia:

Bikur cholim (Hebrew: ביקור חולים; “visiting the sick”; also transliterated Bikur holim) refers to the mitzvah (Jewish religious commandment) to visit and extend aid to the sick.[1] It is considered an aspect of gemilut chasadim (benevolence, selflessness, loving-kindness).[2] It is traditional to recite prayers for healing, such as the Mi Shebeirach prayer in the synagogue, and Psalms (especially Psalm 119) on behalf of the sick.[3] Bikur cholim societies exist in Jewish communities around the world. The earliest Bikur cholim society on record dates back to the Middle Ages.[4]


Visiting the sick is from the clearest signs of such mutual love, mercy and empathy.  More than that, visiting the sick is a major responsibility that every single Muslim is duty-bound to fulfill.  The Prophet Muhammad said:

“The rights of one Muslim over another Muslim are six… When you meet him, you greet him with the salaam (i.e. to say: “As-Salamu alaykum”), when he invites you, you accept his invitation, when he consults you in a matter, you give him sincere advice, when he sneezes and praises God, you ask God to have mercy on him, when he is sick, you visit him, and when he passes away you accompany him (through his funeral).”[2]


About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Illness, Uncategorized, Visiting the Sick and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Visiting the Sick

  1. ermigal says:

    A terrific, instructive, thought-provoking piece, Rachel. I love the idea of following wisdom that’s passed down and avoiding the guess work. I missed the funeral of a work friend for vague reasons: it would be packed, etc. etc. I regret it to this day. There are no do-overs. Lesson learned. Thanks for the wise words!

  2. A fantastic post! My mother had this code of behaviour and I loathed it as a child as I was often carted off to see some sick or injured relative, friend, neighbor, acquaintance with her; whom I hardly knew. I am sorry to say that in my busy life I have not fulfilled the same code as her, and have often not done so because I have reasoned that people want to be left alone.
    Your post made me think though, that maybe we should forget about what we think they want and just do it anyway.

    • rachel bar says:

      I used to deride my mother for some of her “artificial social graces”, but today I wish I would have started younger. Sometimes the code eliminates the guess work, and sometimes it’s a good reminder when we become too set in our ways or when we try to figure out what the other person wants. Thanks for your comment!

  3. lylekrahn says:

    So true. The longer I live the more I see that assumptions have this remarkable ability to be wrong especially since the premise is suspect.

  4. Leslie Margolis says:

    I find that so many who are uncomfortable with another individual’s illness or misfortunes adhere to the “If i don’t know how to act, or what to say, then I’ll just do or say nothing” rule. At times like this a code of behavior can inspire a don’t think, just do philosophy. I like it.
    And from my own code of behavior I wish you and your feet a speedy recovery and many happy walking moments.

  5. Leon Moss says:

    I must have been about 14 years old. My best friend landed up in hospital for an appendix job and I went to visit him. His mother was sitting next to his bed whe I arrived. She hardly spoke any English, only Yiddish. I wanted to impress them with my knowledge of Jewish tradition and I said, “have the Chevra Kadisha been to visist you, instaed of Bikur Cholim. Mother let out a shriek and chased me out of the room…
    Rachel, thanks for all your “likes” to my blog. I am near Netanya – Even Yehuda

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks for your comment Leon, and I know that you’re near Netanya. Your story is funny indeed, and it reminds me of many funny stories of some language mistakes that created an unwelcomed response…

  6. But surely it is never a waste of time and energy working out how one should or should not react to this, that or another situation, Rachel? Afterall, we’re not robots turned out on a conveyor belt.
    It seems so contrary to human dignity to base our actions on a mechanical code of behaviour dictated by some so-called philosopher (ancient or modern) however venerable or “wise” he may claim to be.
    I agree that it saves going to the trouble of thinking for oneself, but is that what we really want?
    I am sure you would be the first to agree that each and every one of us has a unique individuality.
    Living and acting according to “a Book of Rules” (whatever book it may be) was a favourite excuse trotted out by innumerable Germans at the Nuremburg trials (ie: “I was just obeying orders”). It seems very Teutonic and cold to me – ie: “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” sort of thing!!!
    Beethoven, writing of one of his works, said : “It is written from the heart to the heart”.
    In my opinion that’s all that counts in everything, and is the only yardstick that need, really, be used to guide one in life.
    But maybe I have misunderstood you – which is quite possible!

  7. rachel bar says:

    You understood the content Thurstan but not the process. I was not trying to say to not follow your heart, but that during times of doubt, when one is inclined to make assumptions on the behalf of another person, one should realize that we are not mind readers, and therefore the code can be a good guide instead of guessing. Many a times I’ve refrained from calling or visiting because I believed that the ailing friend wants to be alone (similarly to the way I would feel), only to find our later that they felt neglected by me.
    And BTW, I was writing about visiting the sick, which is an act of kindness, and not of murdering people….

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