Visiting the Sick

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Obligation

  1. When a person is sick there’s a mitzvah (positive commandment) to visit the sick as we see that Hashem visited Avraham when he was sick after his Brit Milah. [1]
  2. One who has the opportunity to fulfill visiting the sick and comforting the dead should first visit the sick, however, if he can only fulfill one of the two he should comfort the mourner. [2] If one has time to do both, visiting the sick should be done first, because the aid provided to the sick person is considered like saving his life. [3] Also, visiting the sick certainly takes precedence over this and all other mitzvot, if the life threatening needs of the sick person are not being taken care of. [4] And if one knows something that will help the sick person then visiting the sick has precedence over comforting a mourner. [5]
  3. The mitzvah applies even when the sick person is in the hospital and is taken care of by doctors and nurses. [6]
  4. No beracha is recited over this mitzva. [7]
  5. A person should not enter the room of a sick person suddenly, lest he walk in on the sick person in an undignified psituation. [8]

How often

  1. There is no maximum measure to this mitzvah and the one who visits the sick more often is praiseworthy, even multiple times in one day, as long as it isn’t a burden on the sick person. [9]
  2. One should be careful that one isn't causing the sick person a burden because sometimes it's difficult for the sick person to speak or he may need to go to the bathroom but he's embarrassed and so it's important that the visitor be wise and attentive. [10]

Who should visit

  1. An enemy of the one who’s sick shouldn’t visit the sick so that people don’t think that he’s happy because of his downfall. [11] Some say that nowadays an enemy may visit since it brings to peace. [12]However, one should be careful that it doesn't cause the sick person to feel that he is very sick and that's why he's coming to visit and really it all depends on the situation. [13]
  2. A man may visit a woman and a woman a man, however, the man and woman may not be secluded together in order not to violate the laws of seclusion (Yichud). [14] However, some say that this isn't proper. [15]
  3. Relatives and friends who usually visit the sick person’s house can visit the sick immediately after he becomes sick, however, those who don’t regularly visit shouldn’t visit the sick until after three days. If the illness is sudden and severe all should visit immediately. [16]
  4. One should visit the non-Jew sick people just like one visits the sick Jews. [17]
  5. One should visit the sick person even if he has doctors and nurses addressing all of his needs, as this can serve as encouragement for him and aid in his recovery and help him earn mercy from Hashem. [18]
  6. A sick person may refuse visitors as long as he as others attending to his needs and visiting him, but he cannot refuse all visitation. If he has visitors and will be distressed if other visitors come, he can refuse their visit. [19]
  7. It is preferable to visit the sick in a group if this is not a burden on the sick for several reasons. If not, it is permissible to visit alone. [20]
  8. Even a great person must visit a less important person, and an elder person must visit a young person. [21]
  9. Even if the patient is a baby and not aware of anything, the parents are aware, and certainly benefit tremendously from the support; thus the idea of bringing comfort is applicable, even if not directly to patient.[22]

Three main components of visiting the sick

  1. The primary aspects of visiting the sick are 1) to see what the sick person needs 2) to have his friends speak pleasantly with him 3) pray for his health. [23]

Speaking to the sick person

  1. If the sick person is lying on a bed the visitor may sit on a chair. [24] One should not sit at the head of the bed of the sick person because the schechina rests over the sick person's head. [25]
  2. One should be sensible about which one speaks with the sick person specifically topics of life and not of death. [26]
  3. If God forbid a relative of a sick person dies, we don't notify him of the death, lest it greatly hurt him psychologically and emotionally. We don't rip his shirt, we don't cry in front of him, we don't euologize in front of him, all so that we don't break his heart. We also silence anyone who comes to comfort him on the death. [27] This applies even to the death of a parent for whom he is required to recite Kaddish. Even if he is capable of doing so, he should not be informed. [28]
  • If the sick person does find out, one should not tell him to do kri'ah, nor should they cry for or eulogize the deceased in front of the sick person, and they should prevent people who come from consoling the sick person. [29]
  • These things apply even if the deceased is not a relative, and especially if the deceased is even a friend, because the news of the death of another may be detrimental to the sick person. [30]
  • In these cases, if the news the sick person heard can be a significant detriment, it stands to reason one may lie and say the news is not true. [31]
  • From these Halachot it can be inferred that there is a prohibition to cause a sick person sorrow. One must try to make the sick person happy and joyful. [32]
  1. A sick person doesn't need to stand in honor of his visitors even if the prince enters, however, if he wants to be strict he is allowed. [33]
  2. When it's possible one should take two others in order to visit the sick. [34]

Praying for the Sick

  1. Praying for the sick is included in the mitzvah of doing chessed. [35]
  2. If one prays in front of the sick person one may pray in any language, however, if one doesn't pray in front of the sick person should only pray in Hebrew. [36] In the prayer one should include the sick person together with all Jews who are sick saying "המקום ירחם עליך בתוך חולי ישראל" (Hashem should have mercy on you amongst the sick of Israel). [37]
  3. When one prays for a sick person on Shabbat one should say "שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבוא ורחמיו מרובין ושבתו בשלום". [38]
  4. In general when praying for the sick one should mention the name of the sick and the name of the sick's mother. [39] If the mother's name in not known, one should use the father's name. If that's also unknown one should use the family name.[40]
  5. A mother praying on behalf of her child should not mention her own name but should say “my son/daughter” followed by the child’s name. [41]
  6. If one is unable to visit he should pray for the sick from wherever he is, even though ideal is to pray next to the sick. [42]
  7. One is required to join in on the Tehillim read for the sick in the synagogue after prayers.[43]
  8. If the sick is terminally ill and suffering, some poskim permit praying for an end to their suffering [44] while others forbid it.[45]
  9. One is permitted to pray for a non-Jew to get better. This is certainly true of a convert whose parents still are not Jewish. [46]

When to Visit

  1. One should avoid visiting the sick during the first or last three (halachic) hours of the day. [47]However, if that is the only time one is able to visit the sick one should do it then rather then not visit at all. [48]
  2. Even if one finds the patient asleep, the visitor is still in fulfillment of the mitzvah, as the patient will be informed about the visit after awakening, which will give them encouragement. [49]

Going to Doctors

  1. A sick person must seek expert doctors and medicines and not rely on miracles.[50] However, one must not only rely on doctors rather one must have faith that Hashem will heal him. [51]

Over the Phone

  1. One doesn't fulfill the complete mitzvah by calling the sick person on the phone, rather one should visit in person. However, if one can't visit then one should call. [52]

Importance of the Mitzvah

  1. He who visits a sick person takes away one-sixtieth of their illness. [53]

Links

Sources

  1. Kitzur S”A 193:1, Shulchan Aruch YD 335:1. The Rambam (Hilchot Avel 14:1) writes that visiting the sick is a mitzvah derabbanan (rabbinic). See Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:1 for a list of people who say its from the torah as well as a list who say its rabbinic. Mourning in Halacha 1:2-3 says that the reward for this mitzva is great, and benefits the one who fulfills it both in this world and the next.
  2. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:11, Rambam Hilchot Avel 14:7, Rama Y"D 335:10, Aruch Hashulchan Y"D 335:12.
  3. Mourning in Halacha 1:10
  4. Mourning in Halacha 1:10 quoting Igrot Moshe O"C IV:40:11
  5. Aruch HaShulchan YD 335:12
  6. Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim, pg 41) explaining that certainly there is a purpose to encourage and pray for the sick person and it's included in Ahavta LeReacha Kamocha.
  7. Mourning in Halacha 1:4, Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:1. See both of those sources for reasons.
  8. Mourning in Halachah 1:34
  9. Kitzur S”A 193:1, Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 52), Shulchan Aruch YD 335:2, Rambam Hilchot Avel 14:4
  10. Aruch HaShulchan YD 335:4
  11. Rama YD 335:2, Kitzur S”A 193:1
  12. Aruch HaShulchan YD 335:6 says that each case should be judged individually. He recommends asking the sick person first, and if he allows, to go visit and this creates peace.
  13. Divrei Sofrim (Avilut VeBikur Cholim 1:83)
  14. Aruch HaShulchan YD 335:11 quoting the Birkei Yosef
  15. Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 48) quoting Ramat Rachel (16)
  16. Kitzur S”A 193:1, Shulchan Aruch YD 335:1, Mourning in Halacha 1:6.
  17. Shulchan Aruch YD 335:9, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:12, Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 52)
  18. Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:1
  19. Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:1 footnote 3
  20. Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:1 footnote 3a, Mourning in Halacha 1:33
  21. Shulchan Aruch YD 335:2, Rambam Hilchot Avel 14:4, Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:3 see footnote there where he explains that the obligation even applies to visiting a minor.
  22. Avnei Yashpe 1:230
  23. Kitzur S”A 193:3
  24. Kitzur S”A 193:2. The Shulchan Aruch Y"D 335:3 states that when visiting a sick person, one should not sit on a bed, chair, or bench, because the shechina rests over the head of the sick person. The Rama there notes however, that this is only necessary when the sick person is on the floor and the visitor will be higher than the sick person. If the sick person is lying on a bed one is permitted to sit on a chair or bench. This is the practice nowadays. (Yalkut Yosef Y"D Chelek 7 1:3,Aruch Hashulchan 335:7)
  25. This applies even if he is not sitting higher than the sick person. If the sick person is an adam beinoni (regular person) one should not sit at the foot of the bed because this is the place of the Angel of Death. If the person is a tzadik gammur (totally righteous person) then a person should only sit at the foot of the bed, because the shechina surrounds a tzadik on all sides but not near his feet. (Aruch Hashulchan 335:7 quoting the Zohar, Mourning in Halachah 1:23)
  26. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:5
  27. Shulchan Aruch Y"D 337:1
  28. (Mourning in Halachah 1:28 footnote 57)
  29. (Mourning in Halachah 1:28 footnote 58, 1:29 footnote 62)
  30. Mourning in Halachah 1:28 footnote 59
  31. Mourning in Halachah 1:29 footnote 61
  32. (Mourning in Halachah 1:29)
  33. Rama YD 376:1, Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 46)
  34. The Shiltot (93) writes that one shouldn't visit the sick unless one has two others with him, the Emek Shelah 93:7 writes that this isn't sourced in any sefer before or after the Shiltot. However, Zera Chaim (pg 7) explains that it may be based on the interpretation of Rav Shmuel Ben Chofni Goan who writes that Yosef took his two sons with to visit his father Yacov in order to fulfill visiting the sick implying that one needs to have others with him when visiting the sick. Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 42) concludes that when possible it's better together with others, however, one shouldn't miss the mitzvah because of this especially when it causes a burden for the sick person.
  35. Shulchan Aruch YD 335:5-6, Shulchan Aruch Hamidot 2:pg. 236
  36. Shulchan Aruch Y"D 335:5, Aruch Hashulchan Y"D 335:9
  37. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:4, Chafetz Chaim in Ahavat Chesed (section 3, chapter 3, pg 221)
  38. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:4, Chafetz Chaim in Ahavat Chesed (section 3, chapter 3, pg 221)
  39. Aruch Hashulchan 119:1, Daas Torah O.C. 119:1 quoting a Zohar on Shemot that the father’s name is not used since we are not always positive about the true identity of the father.
  40. 9. Orchos Rabbeinu 1:218, quoting the Chazon Ish.
  41. Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Ishei Yisrael 23, note 189).
  42. Mourning in Halacha 1:35, Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:2 and footnote there.
  43. Shulchan Aruch Hamidot 2: pg. 236
  44. Aruch Hashulchan YD 335:3, Iggerot Moshe CM 2:74 primarily based on a Ran in Nedarim 40a which explains that the very least we can do for someone suffering who has no chance of recovery to be freed of his suffering through death. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics 3:1062 suggests the following pray: "Please God, with the power of Your great mercy, and with Your great benevolence, may it be Your will to take the soul of so-and-so out from its closed prison to relieve him from his suffering, and may his soul return to the God who gave it to Him". Rav Yisrael Meir Lau in the Torah Sh'baal Peh Journal volume 25 page 63 (published in 1984) says that relatives should never pray for this at it may seem that they simply want to free themselves of the care-taking responsibilities. Beer Moshe 8:239:4 says that one should just pray for Hashem to treat them mercifully without specifically mentioning death.
  45. Tzitz Eliezer 9:47. Sh"t Shevet Halevi 10:292:3 says that since we cannot discern when one reaches this stage of illness, therefore the aforementioned Ran is difficult to actually put into practice. see Sh"t Yabia Omer YD 2:24 where Chacham Ovadia Yosef writes similarly.
  46. Yechave Daat 6:60
  47. Kitzur S”A 193:3, Shulchan Aruch YD 335:4, Rambam Hilchot Avel 14:5 based on gemara in Nedarim 40A. Shulchan Aruch YD 335:4 says the reason for this is because during the first three hours of the day the sickness is weaker and the visitor will not be sufficiently stirred to pray for mercy on the sick's behalf, and during the last three hours of the day the sickness is strongest and the visitor will give up on praying on the sick's behalf. Rambam in Hilchot Avel 14:5 says the reason is because this is the time that the needs of the sick person are being taken care of. Chafetz Chaim in Ahavat Chesed (section 3, chapter 3, pg 221) writes that these hours must be Shaot Zmaniot otherwise there are some days where one can’t visit the sick.
  48. Chafetz Chaim in Ahavat Chesed (section 3, chapter 3, pg 221). Aruch HaShulchan YD 335:8 writes that the minhag isn't strict about this because chazal didn't forbid visiting during these times rather chazal were giving advise when it's best to visit. Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 44) and Mourning in Halacha 1:7 also write that today we aren't concerned about only visiting during these times. See Sh"t Tzitz Eliezer (Ramat Rachel 12), Shalmat Chaim (411).
  49. Derech Sichah, p. 66
  50. Rambam (Deot 4:1) writes that a person must stay away from things that destroy a person’s body and practice healthy habits. Shevet Yehuda YD 336:1 writes that a sick person must go to the doctor and there’s almost a strong obligation on the sick person and his family to find an expert doctor and good medicine. One may not rely on a miracle. See also Sh”t Yabia Omer 4 CM 6:4(4) who gives the background to this topic and concludes with this approach. Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim 38-9) writes that it seems that the sick person may refuse a certain visitor from coming and it’s not considered an issue of not seeking a way to become healthy, but there may be an issue for the sick person to refuse anyone from visiting him.
  51. Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 53), Bach YD 336
    • Sh"t Igrot Moshe YD 1:223 writes that if one can visit in person one must do so, however, if one can't visit then one must call the sick person on the phone. Sh"t Yachave Daat 3:89 agrees. Similarly, Yalkut Yosef (Bikur Cholim pg 43) writes one doesn't fulfill the complete mitzvah by calling the sick person on the phone, rather one should visit in person. However, if one can't visit then it's good to call or write a letter to strength and encourage him.
    • Sh"t Tzitz Eliezer (Ramat Rachel 8:6) writes that someone who can't visit the sick or a talmid chacham who is learning torah can fulfill his mitzvah partially by calling on the phone. He specifies that in regards to the sick person's needs, if the sick person is in the hospital this isn't a concern, speaking to the sick person can be done over the phone, and praying for him can be done anywhere, yet, it's preferable to pray in front of the sick person. Sh"t Chelkat Yacov YD 188 writes that one doesn't fulfill his primary mitzvah by calling on the phone.
    • Minchat Yitzchak 2:84 also seems to say that if one can't fulfill the mitzvah in person one should call on the phone. In conclusion he writes that before calling one should first speak to the sick person a few times and then after one is familiar with his situation one may call on the phone. [Interestingly Minchat Yitzchak 2:84(10) he raises of fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim through a video conference (such as Skype) and seems to say that it would be better than a phone call.]. See Mourning in Halacha 1:35 and Yalkut Yosef YD chelek 7 1:2 for more sources.
    • Minchat Asher (Beresheet p. 123) argues that calling on the phone is an act of chesed but the act of visiting the sick only refers to the actual act of visiting and not doing certain components of the idea of bikur cholim.
  52. Gemara Bava Metzia 30b