Klal Yisrael just celebrated the momentous occasion of the Daf Yomi Siyum HaShas, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world gathered together to celebrate. In MetLife Stadium alone there were close to 100,000 Jews! Many there did not learn the daf each day but wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves and give encouragement to those who did complete all of Shas.
This was a global example of Jews caring for one another. It’s part of who we are—a large extended family. Sometimes the caring is shown on a more personal level.
One of my students with a very serious health condition was sent to a rehab center after his hospital stay. He was there for a few months. When I visited him, I saw the care was excellent, but my student was very lonely. Visiting him, and encouraging others to come also, became a priority.
Some of the laws of bikur cholim (visiting the sick) are derived from Parshas Vayechi, where Yosef visited his sick father, Yaakov. For example, one may not sit at the end of the bed of a sick person, since the Shechina of Hashem—the Divine Presence—is resting there. The Gemara learns this from when Yaakov sat up and bowed toward the end of the bed because of the presence of the Shechina. Indeed, Hashem Himself comes to visit each sick person to make him feel loved. Current research shows that hospital patients with visitors are more likely to get better faster than those with few or no visitors. Just visiting a sick person has the ability to remove 1/60th of his illness (Baba Metzia 30b). Feeling cared for is healing in itself.
Some will point out that Yaakov was a loner—vayivaser Yaakov levado (he remained alone). After all, even Hashem is described as levado (alone); so too was Yaakov. So why would he want visitors to help him feel better?
Perhaps the difference was Yaakov’s current state of malaise. Normally, being alone can be a good thing. It can give one time to introspect and reflect on his goals. Sadly, too few people nowadays take the time to reflect in a positive way, opting instead to connect with their cell phone. But in times of sickness or danger, a human being wants company. The person’s soul wants to connect to another soul.
Therefore, on his deathbed, Yaakov gathered all his sons together. He was going to leave this world soon, and they would plunge into true exile. Yaakov wanted to comfort them by revealing the exact time Moshiach will come (Rashi). However, Hashem made the date slip from his mind before he divulged it. The Lev Simcha says although Yaakov forgot the exact time, he did divulge the secret to bringing Moshiach. We see it in his words, “Gather together and I will tell you what will be in the end of days” (Vayechi 49:1). The formula is to gather and be together! Unity and togetherness bring redemption.
This is echoed by the blessings Yaakov gave on his deathbed. He blessed his sons, each according to his strengths. Rashi adds that Yaakov gave an additional bracha (blessing) that was a general bracha, something they would share in common—but only if they would be united and sincerely share in each other’s blessings.
When Yaakov did pass on, the pasuk says there was an avel kaved (terrible mourning) throughout Mitzrayim. Why was this the case?
Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk gives a remarkable insight. The day Yaakov came to Egypt, the famine stopped. Although the famine was supposed to last for seven years, it only lasted two, for it stopped with Yaakov’s arrival. Yet when Yaakov passed away, the famine came back fully again! That’s why the whole of Egypt went into terrible mourning. They recognized then that Yaakov himself had sustained them all for 17 years.
Yaakov may have been levado, alone, but his priority was always looking outward. This quality gave blessings to whatever area in which he lived.
As we go about our day, let’s look around to see who needs that extra boost of friendship. Perhaps someone needs a job, or a shidduch. Maybe we can help and show that we care. It’s okay to take some alone time—it’s healthy to do an inventory of our actions each day—but let’s be sensitive to notice those around us who need another soul to care about them. You may find them at work, at shul or at the supermarket. But they may be even closer to home, for our spouse, children and family need our caring hand the most.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.