Judaism Ensures We Care for the Sick
Commentary by Hyphen Parent
Asking someone who you know is suffering to “Keep me updated” is not only unhelpful, but makes life more difficult for the suffering person. You’re adding to their mental load. You’re not supporting them. You’re not helping. You’re actively making their life more difficult by adding one more thing they need to do in an already incredibly difficult time.
Bikur cholim is the Jewish commandment to visit and help those who are sick. In general, there are specific things we do and some things we avoid while visiting the sick. These things can be altered to meet the needs of the ill person and the situation at large.
There’s very much an emphasis on physically showing up for the person. Whenever possible, we visit them in the hospital, visit them at home, bring them meals, fulfill the needs they can’t do themselves, ask what they need from us. We respect their limitations, wants and needs, but we show up for them.
I’ve written extensively on how Judaism subscribes to the idea that there is a sacredness in showing up. Bikur cholim is yet another example of that.
Recently, a postcard featured in Post Secret caught my attention as it relates to how we treat the sick. It reads, “Pick up your phone and call me. You don’t have to go through this alone. I’m here for you.”
Bikur cholim ensures the ill do not suffer alone. It means you pick up the phone and call the person to check in. You offer to visit. You offer meals. You offer to lighten their load, not add to it. If someone is ill and struggling, they shouldn’t be the ones who have to put in that effort. If you are there for your ill loved ones, you show up for them rather than expecting them to reach out to you.
“One who visits removes a sixtieth of the patient’s illness. One who should visit and doesn’t, harms the patient and is regarded as ‘shedding blood,’” according to Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin of the Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council, “The essence of the mitzvah of bikur cholim is to attend to the needs of the patient and pray for his recovery …”
Those who are obligated to visit need to show up for those who are suffering. It’s our job to help them and meet their needs. It’s not their job to keep us informed. They’re already struggling with the weight of symptoms, pain, doctor visits, stress about the future and so much more. They need their friends and loved ones to love and support them, not give them yet another responsibility.