Loving Kindness – SEFER AHAVAS CHESED – 28th Av, 5769
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26 Av, 5769 / August 16, 2009
Day 143 – Eternal Wages
SEFER AHAVAS CHESED — Part III Chapter III
Most people would rather think about pleasant things, and man’s vulnerability to sickness, his pain, struggle and mortality are not pleasant things. For this reason, the Torah singles out the mitzvah of visiting the sick — bikur cholim — as a special brand of chesed. It is among the mitzvos listed in the Mishnah (Shabbos 127a) regarding which: “one eats their fruits in this world and the principal remains in the World to Come.”
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) presents a paradox: The Torah (Devarim 13:5) declares, “You should follow after Hashem.” Another verse, however, makes that demand seemingly impossible to obey, for “Hashem is a fire that consumes” (Devarim 4:24). The Talmud seeks to reconcile these verses: How does one follow Hashem without being consumed? One who seeks to elevate himself to the level of prophet or messiah most certainly will feel Hashem’s heat. One who follows in His ways, however, will be drawn closer to Him. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 30b), quoting Shemos (18:20), explains: “Teach them the way they should travel in.” “The way” refers to chesed in general. “That they should travel in” refers specifically to bikur cholim.
The discussion in this portion of the Talmud relates to visiting a person who is a “ben gilo,” which means someone born under one’s “mazal,” or astrological sign. To a certain extent, two people born in the same period share a similar fate, and the Talmud states that when a person visits a ben gilo who is sick, he takes upon himself one-sixtieth of the illness. That amount in halachah is often viewed as nullified by the other 59 parts. If a drop of milk falls into a pot of meat, a rabbi will under most circumstances declare the meat still edible if there is 60 times more meat than milk in the pot. Such situations, of course, require the opinion of a rabbi who understands the specific case. As a general principle, however, one-sixtieth represents an amount of adulteration that is neutralized by the whole. In the case of bikur cholim, the point is that the visitor is affected by his contact with the sick ben gilo, but he is not made sick himself.
The fact that the Talmud frames its bikur cholim discussion in terms of a ben gilo may reflect a certain facet of human psychology. The ben gilo is someone whose fate one shares. When a person hears that an acquaintance is ill with a type of disease that strikes frequently, the person is saddened for two reasons. First of all, he is pained by his friend’s suffering. In addition, he understands that he might someday share his friend’s fate. Visiting his friend requires the courage to come face-to-face with his own mortality and constant dependency upon Hashem’s kindness
This does not mean that a person should actually expose himself to a dangerous disease. If such exposure seems called for, one must consult with a rabbi for the proper guidelines. In circumstances where danger is not an issue, the Chofetz Chaim acknowledges that for many people, the emotional toll may be an issue. To this, he responds that the merit of the mitzvah itself carries tremendous protective powers. Visiting someone who is ill, in fact, often strengthens the visitor, giving him the faith and optimism to overcome the fears that lurk in the corner of every human heart.
Step by Step
Even if I am not comfortable doing so, I will try to visit or call someone I know who is sick.
Taken from “Chofetz Chaim: Loving Kindness – Daily Lessons in the Power of Giving,” a project of Mesorah Publications and the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation
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