The wise words of Shimon HaTzadik, known as the last member of the Great Assembly, are recorded in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 1:2. The world, he says, depends upon three things – study of Torah, the service of HaShem (Avodah), and on the performance of good deeds (Gemilut Chasadim). Gemilut Chasadim – or deeds of loving kindness – are represented throughout Jewish text with actions between man and G-d. We are often instructed to replicate these actions and are told to live in the image of G-d. In the Talmud, for example, we are told of G-d’s visit to Abraham following his circumcision. From this we learn to “visit the ill” (Bikur Cholim).
What does Bikur Cholim entail?
Bikur cholim, specifically, is the act of visiting the sick and this may be performed in a variety of ways including:
Visiting someone in the hospital
Visiting someone in a nursing home
Visiting someone at a rehabilitation center
Visiting someone who is homebound
Making a phone call to one who is ill
Picking someone up to run errands
Making a connection with someone who is ill
Running errands for someone
Bringing a preschool class to sing songs at a nursing home
Reciting a prayer with or for someone while at their beside
What is the purpose of Bikur Cholim?
As with most things we are instructed to do, there is a purpose behind the request. The notion of Gemilut Chasadim and the performance of acts of loving kindness benefit – not only the recipient – but the “donor” as well. Simple contemplation of the act of Bikur Cholim yields many possible benefits:
The power of human connection
Building of community
Understanding of another
Development of relationship
Bringing a moment of joy to a person’s day
Fulfilling a mitzvah
Acting in G-d’s image
The more good we do, the more good we see. The Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim opens us up to deeper possibilities in this world for connecting with others and connecting with G-d.
There are Bikur Cholim communities through synagogues, Jewish organizations, and schools. They are frequently part of social action committees and are easily found through an Internet search. I remember when I was in the hospital giving birth to my children, we had visits from the local Chabad Bikur Cholim society. They came by to see if we needed anything, to offer us a kosher meal, and to wish us well. There is something about others caring for and about you that enhances your connections and the ties you feel to your community. If you have not yet had the opportunity to be a part of a Bikur Cholim group, take some time today to see if one exists in your community!