A Blessed Presence
November –December 2017
Rabbi Bill S. Tepper
I sometimes wonder how I would fill my days were I to be hospitalized or homebound due to illness or injury.
I’d read a lot of books and newspapers, catch-up on email and watch Netflix on my laptop. I might take up assembling model cars. As well, I’d likely sleep – or slumber – a good deal more than usual.
And I would welcome visitors who arrive to spend time with me. Of all the activity undertaken while bed-ridden, greeting visitors would – arguably – be most vital to my healing. It would allow me to connect with the ‘healthy’ world. I would remain up-to-date on life beyond hospital or home. The visits would provide the incentive to recover as promptly as possible and resume the normal routine of my life. And in keeping with our Jewish view of the world, I would be gifting those who visit the knowledge that she/he has fulfilled the mitzvah, and among the most important of middot – Jewish values: bikkur cholim – visiting the ill and injured.
In Bereshit – the Torah’s Book of Genesis – and as interpreted by our rabbinic sages of the Talmud [Sotah 14a and Bava Metzia 86b], we learn bikkur cholim through the example set by God, who visits our ancestor Abraham as he recovers from b’rit milah – the covenant of circumcision.
Also in the Talmud [Nedarim 39b] we are taught that one who engages in bikkur cholim has the capacity to remove one-sixtieth of a patient’s illness. And according to the great Jewish philosopher – and physician – Maimonides, ‘one who visits the ill is considered to have taken away a portion of his or her illness, thus rendering the illness [or injury] less severe.’ [Laws of Mourning 14:4] Simply put, to visit one who is ill or injured is to be a blessed presence.
If they were able, rabbis would spend all their waking hours visiting those in need of healing. But because we must respond to an array of congregational and communal tasks, we look to a corps of committed laypersons with whom to share the mitzvah of bikkur cholim. We are reaching out then to Temple Shalom members with time, energy and desire to make a difference in the lives of those who have been rendered vulnerable and will welcome the blessed presence of visitors.
In The Wisdom of Judaism: An Introduction to the Values of the Talmud , Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins writes:
Compassion is a trait that covers a multitude of moral and honorable qualities. Someone who is compassionate is empathic, caring, and loving…in the Jewish heritage, action is primary; thus compassion must include a strong component of reaching out and doing concrete acts of caring and helping, not just feeling good thoughts in the heart [p. 16].
In the coming months, I [Rabbi Bill S. Tepper] along with Temple Shalom lay leaders and health professionals, will endeavour to conduct a workshop the purpose of which will be to guide others towards becoming part of a bikkur cholim team. An abundance of resources are available to us. We will explore the what, when, who, where and how of this valued task. We will organize ourselves. We will make a difference. And we will be a blessed presence.