I’m not a religious person and I don’t 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 God–inspired 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.
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. It is considered an aspect of gemilut chasadim (benevolence, selflessness, loving-kindness). 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. Bikur cholim societies exist in Jewish communities around the world. The earliest Bikur cholim society on record dates back to the Middle Ages.
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).”