Loving Kindness – SEFER AHAVAS CHESED – 3rd Elul, 5769
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30 Av, 5769 / August 20, 2009
Day 148 – With a Prayer
SEFER AHAVAS CHESED — Part III Chapter III
A person setting out to visit someone who is sick might wonder what he should bring him. The Chofetz Chaim answers conclusively: Bring a prayer. The essence of bikur cholim is praying to Hashem to grant a complete recovery to the patient, and without that element, the mitzvah is incomplete. One should not, however, make his prayers apparent to the patient, who may interpret the act as an indication of the severity of his illness. Rather, one should pause momentarily while in conversation or while performing some task for the patient, and speak quietly from the heart, saying: “Hashem, please heal him/her.”
To pray with the correct intensity, it is important to perceive the patient’s real situation. One should allow him to express his pain and fear. In addition, halachah dictates that one should not visit during the first three hours or the last three hours of the day. This rule relates directly to the efficacy of one’s prayers. If a person visits in the early part of the day, he will usually see the patient at his best and may not take the situation seriously enough to pray with the necessary fervor. On the other hand, in the last part of the day the visitor will usually see the patient at his worst. This may cause him to give up hope for a cure, and he may not pray with the belief that his prayers can be answered. Nevertheless, if one has no choice but to visit during the first or last three hours of the day, he may do so.
When praying at the bedside of the sick, one can pray in any language. Because the Divine Presence rests at the head of the sick person, the words of prayer are being received directly. When one prays in another location, one should pray in Hebrew. Although Hashem obviously understands every language, the holy language fuels the prayers’ ascent. Because the words are not being uttered directly before the Divine Presence, they are in most cases being conveyed by Hashem’s messengers to the Heavens, a task more efficiently fulfilled when the prayers are in Hebrew. In any case, the sincerity of the prayer is more important than the language. A hollow prayer in Hebrew will not ascend faster than a heartfelt prayer in one’s native tongue.
Prayers for the sick should not focus exclusively on the patient one is visiting. Instead, one prays for the recovery of the specific person among all the sick people of Israel. This turns the private prayer into a petition for the benefit of the entire nation, and gives it a vastly greater impact. It harnesses the merit of all those who are ill in Jewish communities throughout the world, and casts their lot together, creating an infinitely more powerful draw upon Hashem’s stores of mercy.
When one prays for the sick on Shabbos, the wording is different: “Shabbos prohibits us from crying out and may a recovery come speedily.” Shabbos itself is a curative force. A person once posed a question to the Skverer Rebbe debating this proposition. In this person’s experience, illnesses seemed to have always worsened on Shabbos. The Rebbe explained that Hashem brought out the peak of the illness on Shabbos precisely because Shabbos carries the power to contain it. The person who experiences his worst symptoms on Shabbos is in a certain way fortunate; at his moment of crisis, he is in the hands of the Supreme Source of healing.
Step by Step
Whenever I visit a sick person, I will find an opportunity to say a short prayer on his behalf.
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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