The tradition of bikur cholim (be-core kho-leem), Hebrew for “visiting the sick,” is an imperative to visit and support the needs of those who are ill or isolated. Visiting those in need brings comfort and reinforces connections to life.
The act of bikur cholim is a mitzvah, a moral and spiritual obligation incumbent upon all Jews to perform. The Bible tells us that human beings are created in the image of God and instructs us to aspire to be like God by emulating God’s ways. God visits Abraham while he was recuperating after being circumcised (Genesis 17:26-18:1). The Talmud (Biblical Commentary) teaches us that “As He visited the sick, so shall you visit the sick…”
Bikur cholim is an essential quality of good interpersonal relationships. It reflects the primary Biblical value, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). By fulfilling this role, we deeply enrich both our lives and the lives of those we visit. When we visit we attain a spiritual dimension that goes well beyond a simple personal expression of caring and links us with generations past, present and future. Indeed, we are linked not only to the entire Jewish people, but to all humanity, as well, emulating the G-dly attributes of compassion and lovingkindness.
The Talmud makes references to scholars and disciples making visits to the sick. The local Bikur Cholim Society was one of the principle institutions established by Jewish communities, the first one formed at the time of the Middle Ages. Bikur cholim groups continue to exist to this day, in all parts of the world, with people making the commitment to care for one another, and bring the strength of community and connection of Jewish heritage to the bedside.
Why is bikur cholim important?
- Because people need to feel connected to the community especially when they are ill or homebound.
- Because bringing the community to the bedside lifts the spirit of those who may feel forgotten.
- Because studies have shown that social contact and support positively influences those needing and receiving comfort.
- Because visiting and caring activities helps build community and character.
- Because we are acting in a G-dly way when we visit.
What kinds of things do bikur cholim visitors do?
Bikur cholim visitors are involved in manifold ways of helping — either as an individual, in an “army of one,” or as part of a coordinated team effort. There are so many ways one can help, caring gestures include:
- Visit a patient in the hospital/nursing home, or visit the homebound.
- Call a homebound senior before Shabbos.
- Bring food to a family with a new baby.
- Drive someone to a doctor’s appointment.
- Help a child, whose parent is hospitalized, with homework.
- Say psalms together or on behalf of the ill.
- Take someone’s car to be filled with gas.
- Bring gift certificates from places which deliver food, so a family can make its own food choices and not feel dependent on what others cook for them.
- Call when you are at the store, and say “I am here. What can I pick up for you?”
- Share your hobbies, such as baking, singing or writing.
Opportunities to help are as varied as the individuals and groups who perform them.
Each Fall we gather in New York City to engage, inspire and educate those interested in bikur cholim. This conference raises awareness of the importance of bikur cholim for the well being of the individual and community and to offer a structure for people/organizations to come together to learn and network. Our conference attracts people from the tri-state area and beyond.
Past conference keynote speakers include Elie Weisel, Samuel Klagsburn, M.D., Rabbi Moses Tendler, M.D., Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, Rabbi Meir Fund, Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, Rabbi Tzvi Blanchard and Blu Greenberg.
The conference offers basic skills training and organizing assistance along with other informative topics. Workshops are facilitated by experts in their field. Recent conference workshops have included: Mindful Visiting: Transforming the Heart through Compassion and Self-Awareness, Ethical Wills, Bikur Cholim the MTV way: Organizing Teen and College Projects, Storytelling as a Tool in Bikur Cholim, Send in the Clowns: Uses of Humor in the Visit, and For Rabbis Only: Worst Cases, Best Practices in Rabbinic Bikur Cholim.
Jewish tradition offers guidelines for visiting
Please contact us at 212.632.4730 or BikurCholimCC@jbfcs.org if we can assist you or your group in better performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim. There are also many meaningful opportunities locally for visitors or volunteers throughout the service programs of The Jewish Board.