Approximately fifteen years ago, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l had spoken to us regarding the “Halacha Yomit” project and told us that it is prudent for us to occasionally discuss Halacha topics combined with ideas of Mussar as well. As such, let us now discuss the laws of visiting the sick.
The Gemara (Baba Metzia 30b) states that the verse “And you shall notify them of the way through which they must walk” (Shemot 18) refers to the Mitzvah of visiting the sick. The Gemara (Sotah 14a) states: The Torah states “After Hashem your G-d shall you walk”. Can one walk behind Hashem’s presence? Does the Torah not say, “For Hashem your G-d is a consuming fire”? Rather, this means that one must follow the attributes of Hashem. Just as He dresses the naked, as the verse states, “And Hashem made for the man and his wife leather tunics and he dressed them,” so should you dress the naked. Just as Hashem visited the sick, as the verse states, “And Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre,” so should you visit the sick. Just as Hashem consoled mourners, as the verse states, “And it was after Avraham died and Hashem blessed his son, Yitzchak,” so should you console mourners. The general rule is that we must act with the attributes of loving kindness to others which certainly includes the Mitzvah of visiting the sick.
The idea behind this Mitzvah is that by going to visit the sick, one is able to see from up close all of the infirm individual’s necessities such that one will be able to offer any necessary help, such as food, drink, medications, or even wise advice, as the verse states, “In the multitude of counsellors, there is salvation.” Another issue one might help with is cleaning around the house. Indeed, the Gemara (Nedarim 40a) recounts that once, a student of Rabbi Akiva fell ill and none of the Sages came to visit him. Eventually, Rabbi Akiva came to visit his student and because he cleaned and straightened up the ill person’s surroundings, the student exclaimed, “My rabbi, you have given me life!” When Rabbi Akiva left, he expounded publicly, “Whoever does not visit the sick is tantamount to spilling his blood.” (In the following Halacha, we shall discuss this matter further.)
Even if the sick person is laying at home and being tended to by dedicated doctors and nurses, Maran zt”l writes that it is nevertheless a Mitzvah to visit him, strengthen his spirit, and to encourage him, as the Gemara (ibid.) states, “A member of the same fortune takes away one-sixtieth of his illness.” The Meiri explains that if the one visiting the ill individual loves him and the visit is appreciated by the ill person because of the personality of the one coming to visit him, this eases the illness from the individual. The Rambam (Chapter 14 of Hilchot Melachim, Halacha 4) states: “Everyone is obligated in the Mitzvah of visiting the sick. Even a great person must visit a simple person, even several times a day, as long as this is not a burden on the ill person. Anyone who visits the sick is tantamount to having taken a portion of his illness and easing his plight. Anyone who does not visit the sick is tantamount to spilling his blood.”
We see from the words of the Rambam that those visiting the sick must take care not to overburden the ill individual. This is a common occurrence when family members come to visit a woman who has just given birth as a result of their great joy of the birth of the new baby. At times, such visits can burden the new mother who requires rest and relaxation and such visits are not beneficial to her at all. This is not included in the Mitzvah of visiting the sick and is actually just the opposite. The family and friends should look out for her rest and well-being.
The Gemara (ibid.) states that Rav said that whoever visits the sick shall be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom, as the verse (Tehillim 41) states, “Praiseworthy is he who considers the poor (“poor” refers to the sick person as the Gemara there proves), Hashem shall save him on the day of evil (“evil” refers to the judgment of Gehinnom).” Hashem likewise rewards one for this even in this world, as the verse (ibid.) states, “Hashem shall preserve him and keep him alive, let him be called happy in the land and do not deliver him unto the greed of his enemies.” The Gemara explains that “Hashem shall preserve him” from the Evil Inclination “and keep him alive” from suffering, “And let him be called happy in the land” that all shall be honored by this person “and do not deliver him unto the greed of his enemies” that good friends shall flock to this individual and not bad ones.