July 21, 2024
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July 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Yom Kippur is a good time to work on our mitzvot, such as the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Especially since no one you know is feeling well.

Not a lot of people give thought to the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Well, except for the organization called “Bikur Cholim.” Most people just sometimes happen to visit someone who’s sick, and they suddenly realize in the middle, “Hey, I’m doing bikur cholim!”

In general, though, you hear that someone is sick, and your first reaction is, “Find out what he was doing, so we don’t do that. What was he eating?”

You do learn about it, though. You learn about bikur cholim in kindergarten, when you’re taught the story of Avraham Avinu, and then you come home with a list of phone numbers of everyone in your class on a cheap magnet that is always sliding under the fridge and sticking to the bottom. And when you get sick—because kindergarten is a germ farm—you get a phone call from your school, and it’s your whole class singing the Get Well song into the phone. Then the teacher gets on and asks if you’re feeling better now.

Yeah, that was just what the doctor prescribed. I don’t know why Hashem didn’t just have the three malachim sing into the phone.

I actually did do bikur cholim when I was in school, but not in kindergarten. I was in beit midrash, in a little yeshiva in middle of nowhere, and there was a hospital down the block. We didn’t sing into the phone, because we mainly did our bikur cholim on Shabbat. Also, we weren’t great at singing. Instead, on Shabbat afternoons, a bunch of us would go into the hospital and make our way through a whole maze to find doors we were actually allowed to go through on Shabbat, and we’d hang out casually next to doors that we couldn’t go through until someone else walked through, and then we’d all follow creepily closely behind him, and then we’d walk into rooms and have patients go, “Who are you?” And we’d say we were from the yeshiva, and they’d say they didn’t know of any yeshivas near there, and we’d say we’re based in a house, and by “we” I don’t mean me, because I don’t think I ever said anything. I just added to the general anxiety of having a bunch of strangers come in unannounced to say, “Good Shabbos.” Usually in unison.

That was always the basic conversation, though, which was nice, because it gave us a built-in topic. Looking back, I think we were just promoting awareness of the yeshiva to the elderly for money. Basically, there was one really outgoing guy, named Levi, who made most of the conversation, and everyone else was just kind of his backup, in case the sick person got up and—I don’t know—attempted to mug him. For whatever was in his suit pockets. On Shabbat. Levi had an arrangement where the rabbi of the hospital would send him a list every week of all the Jewish patients, which Levi would then leave in yeshiva, because there was no eruv.

In general, though, visiting people you don’t know isn’t easy. Unless you’re part of an organization, the hospital is going to look at you funny, and they might call security. You walk in and go, “Is there anyone here that’s, like, sick?”

Really? This is a hospital.

Or you walk in and give them an actual patient’s name, and they go, “What’s your relationship to the patient?”

“Well, my kids’ school sent out an email to daven for him. I think he’s my neighbor’s kid’s second grade…um… rabbi’s… father.”

“Second grade rabbi? You guys have rabbis for second grade?”

And the whole time they have their hands on their buzzers, ready to summon the SWAT team.

Okay, so this might not happen, but you feel like it will. And anyway, there are organizations where awesome people devote time to visiting and making conversation with people they don’t know. I’m talking about people you do know. They might not even be in a hospital, and it might not even be anything serious. They’re just stuck in bed. Shouldn’t you maybe visit them or something?

A lot of people try to find excuses. They say, “Well, they say that if you visit someone, you take a sixtieth of his sickness. Isn’t that another way of saying you’re gonna catch something?”

People are worried about getting sick, but the truth is that you can protect yourself by simply taking like one to two years of medical school, tops.

But I’m not even just talking about contagious diseases. You’re not going to catch his broken toe, or his herniated disc, unless you try lifting him.

Another excuse people use is that sick people in general have messy houses. Who says they even want you? Then they feel like they have to clean, and they can’t even get out of bed.

“How’s my living room? Never mind, I don’t want to know. The kids have been wearing pajamas for three days.”

Maybe they’re embarrassed of the mess. They’re sick, they’re not up to having company. I don’t want—every time my thermometer hits 103—for people to suddenly start showing up at my house, and I have to clean and offer them food. I’m not like Avraham Avinu—I can’t run around slaughtering cows and ripping out tongues and baking matzah. I have 103.

So a lot of people say, “Yeah, he probably doesn’t want visitors.” And he might not. But the Torah says he might. Did you ever call? Find out. And if his wife says no, you could have her put him on speakerphone and all of you could sing into the phone.

By Mordechai Schmutter

 Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].



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