Our good intentions can be enhanced with skill, grace, and efficiency. The ideal visitor needs to be mindful as he/she provides optimistic support, assistance toward independence and a listening ear.
Hiddur (Hebrew for “beautify”) is the concept of enhancement of a mitzvah through beautification. Conventionally, hiddur applies to the ritualistic aspects of religious observance: the ornamented kiddush cup, the special holiday tablecloth.
In our context, hiddur means carrying out the mitzvah of bikur cholim in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. By educating ourselves to act knowledgeably in the performance of this mitzvah, we bring the spirit of the Jewish community to those who need comfort and connection.
Bikur cholim can be performed effectively as a caring individual. But there are advantages to organizing in a group. This allows tasks to be shared, gives support to each member and increases training possibilities. The value of studying, discussing and performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim in a group setting is manifold. The group forms a body of support and resources as the visitors listen to each other’s problems, share ideas and offer helpful suggestions.
Over time, they may find in each other a source of strength, mutual esteem and build a community of caring.
Jewish Tradition and Bikur Cholim
The Talmud Nedarim 39b teaches us the importance of bikur cholim through a story:
Rabbi Helbo once fell ill. Thereupon Rabbi Kahana went and proclaimed: “Rabbi Helbo is ill!” But none visited him. He rebuked them [the scholars], saying, “Did it not once happen that one of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples fell sick, and the Sages did not visit him? So Rabbi Akiva himself entered [the disciple’s house] to visit him, and because they swept and sprinkled the ground before him, he recovered. ‘My master,’ said the disciple, ‘you have revived me!’ Whereupon Rabbi Akiva went forth and lectured: ‘He who does not visit the sick is like a shedder of blood.’
Rabbi Akiva is teaching the importance of a visit and the fact that no one is too prominent to do what is needed, even menial tasks, and of the necessity of using the visit as an opportunity to assess those practical needs.
The Babylonian Talmud Brakhot 5b tells another story:
Rabbi Yochanan once fell ill and Rabbi Hanina went in to visit him. He (Hanina) said to him: “Are your sufferings welcome to you?” Rabbi Yochanan replied: “Neither they nor their reward.” He (Hanina) said to him: “Give me your hand.” He (Yochanan) gave him his hand and he raised him. Why could not R. Yochanan raise himself? They replied: “They prisoner cannot free himself from jail.”
The story affirms the importance of reaching out and helping someone with their affliction. No matter how powerful or learned they may be, people need help as they deal with their illness.
There is greater need for communal concern and action to sustain people with chronic health problems and isolated living situations as our population ages, as hospital visits become shorter and as geographic distance between family members’ increases.
Jewish tradition offers guidelines for Bikur Cholim
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.