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A Vital Visit

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 18/7/2020

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A Vital Visit

We know of the great Mitzva of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick, which is one of the Mitzvos that one who fulfills enjoys their fruits in this world but the principle remains intact for him in the next world.[1] What are the reasons for Bikur Cholim?


The Tur[2] says one reason is in order to motivate the visitor to daven for their recovery. Then it is considered as if he renewed the sick person’s life. In fact, the Rema[3] brings that one who visits a sick person and doesn’t daven for him hasn’t fulfilled this Mitzva.


Another reason is to tend to any needs that are not being attended to. Indeed, ביקור means to check and to tend to as in אבקר את צאני, I will tend to My sheep.[4] ביקור is also related to בוקר, morning, since that is when things are clear and bright. This is what one must do for a sick person—brighten his day, encourage him, buy him a present and the like.[5]  


Can one fulfill Bikur Cholim with a phone call? There is a lot that is lacking in this Mitzva if it is done with a phone call. When one personally visits a sick person, this arouses him more since he feels the pain more and it makes him daven better for the sick person. Additionally, being physically present at the bedside is usually a better way of determining what is needed. Furthermore, although a phone call can cheer up the sick person and make him feel important, a personal visit accomplishes this more effectively. Therefore, most aspects of this Mitzva require a personal visit.[6] However, in cases where circumstances don’t allow him to visit, he should call.[7]       


The Tzitz Eliezer[8] says that if the sick person is in the hospital, all his needs are being tended to. Consequently, most of the Halachos of Bikur Cholim don’t apply.  The only Halachos that are relevant are to bring the sick person enjoyment and to daven for him. By asking those who are close to him, such as his relatives, about him they will relay the message to him which will bring him joy. Although the sick person may have more enjoyment if you visited in person, and even though you may daven better if you personally see his situation, since there is no set amount of how much pleasure you must give him, and no set amount of how much you have to daven for him, you have fulfilled the Mitzva of Bikur Cholim (through asking his relatives about him or with a phone call). 


The Maharsha[9] says that one can fulfill the Mitzva of visiting the sick by simply going there. The visit itself is pleasant to the sick person since from the pleasure he receives, the sickness becomes lighter.[10]


What about if one visits a sick person but he is sleeping? The Rosh[11] says that he fulfills the Mitzva just by being there—even if the person was sleeping or if he didn’t say anything to the sick person. This is because it gives pleasure to the sick person when he is told that someone came to visit him. 
Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the Sefer, Fascinating Insights: Torah Perspectives On Unique Topics. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Shabbos 127a.

[2] Yoreh Deah, 335. Also, see the Beis Yosef, s.v. ומצוה גדולה.

[3] Yoreh Deah 335:4. 

[4] Yechezkel 34:12. See also Vayikra 19:20 and Menachos 49b.

[5] The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 16:29) suggests another reason for Bikur Cholim—to benefit the visitor. Seeing a person sick influences the visitor to think about the importance of doing Teshuva. This is similar to טוב ללכת אל בית אבל...והחי יתן אל לבו, better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting for that is the end of all man, and the living should take it to heart (Koheles 7:2). This influence provides extra merit for the sick person since he caused someone else to do Teshuva.

[6] It has been pointed out that Hashem actually came to visit Avraham to be מבקר חולה, visit the sick (See Breishis 18:1, Sota 14a) and didn’t ask about him from a distance.    

[7] Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223. Also see the Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:128, Minchas Yitzchak 2:84, Minchas Shlomo 2:82:9, Shulchan Shlomo 1 in Hilchos Refuah, p. 224, Pachad Yitzchak Igros U’kesavim 33, Chazon Ovadia, 1:8,9 and Yechaveh Daas 3:83.

[8] 5, Remat Rachel, 8:6.

[9] Baba Metzia 30b, s.v. והודעת

[10] Meiri to the 4th chapter of Nedarim, s.v. מצות עשה

[11] Pirush Ha’Rosh Al Hatorah, Breishis 18:1. 

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