Bikkur Cholim Saves Lives
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Vayera, continues with the life of Avraham. At the age of ninety-nine, he had submitted to circumcision at the command of Hashem. His love of G-d was such that it transcended all emotional resistances. He loved to perform G-d’s commandments no matter how painful or difficult they might seem to the ordinary person. According to the Rabbis, our parsha begins on the third day since Avraham’s Brit Mila. He was recuperating from a surgical procedure which would be extremely hazardous to a person of his age. However, for Avraham Avinu “it was just another day.” He was not caught up in any feelings of self-indulgence but “sat at the door of the tent in the heat of the day.” He was fully engaged in his life work of service to mankind. His task was to provide hospitality for needy travelers and thereby, instruct them in the worship of the true G-d. Most people would, understandably, take some days off after such a harrowing operation, but not Avraham. The Rabbis say that love breaks down all boundaries. When a person is in love he takes little notice of ordinary aches and pains. Mental and physical involvement in activities one loves is the best medicine for afflictions. Fortunate is the person whose work is noble and who experiences it as a labor of love.
Our parsha illustrates the greatness of the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim (visiting the sick). Not everyone merits a visit from the Creator of the Universe, yet, that is precisely what happened to Avraham. Hashem appeared to him in order to lift his spirits and advance his recovery. If Hashem visits the sick, how much more so should we humans, who seek to perfect ourselves by emulating G-d’s ways. We should pause and rethink the great significance of this mitzvah. The Rabbis recognized the supreme importance of mental health. They understood how one’s emotional state can influence his physical condition. The process of recuperation requires a positive attitude and a sense of being alone and uncared for can have negative consequences. Thus, it is a life giving mitzvah to visit the sick, cheer him up, and show your concern for his welfare by providing for his needs and praying on his behalf. A timely visit to a sick person can be the decisive factor in giving him the will to persevere. Bikkur Cholim can save lives.
During Hashem’s visit with Avraham, something strange happened. Avraham saw three strangers approaching from the distance. He beseeched Hashem to not depart from him while he ran to tend to the needs of these strangers. At first glance, the behavior of Avraham is difficult to comprehend and is contrary to all religious expectations. What could be more important than communion with the Creator of the Universe? What could be more precious than a personal visit from Hashem to comfort you in your illness? How could Avraham risk losing this exalted opportunity merely to see to the needs of random passerby?
Avraham’s behavior illustrates a fundamental tenet of Judaism. The Rabbis say “displaying hospitality is greater than greeting the Divine Presence.” A prophetic encounter with Hashem is the most enriching experience a human can attain. It is hard to imagine anything which could provide more inspiration for the human soul. However, all moments of inspiration are limited. Concrete actions which are based on exalted ideals have a greater impact on the personality. Recognizing that all people are created “in His image” and thus, entitled to be treated with compassion is a major teaching of Judaism. Avraham’s love of Hashem was carried over to all beings whom He had endowed with a divine soul. Avraham served Hashem by helping those He had created to attain the purpose of their existence, a knowledge and love of the Creator. Avraham’s goal was to cause Hashem to be beloved by mankind. This activity was of greater significance than a personal visit with the Creator of the Universe.