By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l was once asked whether Bnei Yeshiva are obligated in the Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim, visiting the sick, or is it preferable for them to remain and study Torah?
Before we get to how he responded, it might be worthwhile to review some of the basic aspects of this important Mitzvah. The Gemorah in Sotah (14a) tells us that there is, of course, a Mitzvah to visit the sick. The Mitzvah is quantified in Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah 345:1).
BIBLICAL OR RABBINIC?
There is a debate among the Rishonim whether this Mitzvah is Biblical in origin or Rabbinic. Rav Shimon Kayarra (early 8th century), author of the BaHaG in Mitzvah Assei #36 lists it as a full-fledged Biblical obligation. The Rambam (Hilchos Avel 14:1) and the Meiri (Nedarim 39b) list it as a Rabbinic Mitzvah. And yet others list it as a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah of Gmilus Chassadim (See Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos chapter 3).
REASONS FOR THE MITZVAH
It seems that there are numerous reasons that are cited for this Mitzvah. The question may arise which reason is the operative one.
1. The Gemorah in Nedarim (39b) tells us that visiting the sick removes 1.67% of the illness. But some Rishonim qualify this.
2. Another reason is that whoever visits the sick is inspired to pray more fervently for his or her recover. Indeed, the Ramban writes that one who visited but did not pray for his or her recovery did not fulfill the Mitzvah (Toras HaAdam p.17).
3. The Tur writes that the operative reason is that the visitor will see what the ill person is lacking and attempt to remedy that lack.
4. The Ramban also writes that the visit cheers up the sick person and thus strengthens him.
There are practical halachic differences between the four reasons. According to reasons 1,3, and 4 one has fulfilled the Mitzvah without having prayed. Not so according to reason #2. Can one fulfill the Mitzvah via telephone? According to reason #4 it may be possible, but not so according to reasons 1 through 3.
WHO MUST DO IT
Once a person became sick, it is incumbent upon everyone to visit. Even someone of great stature must visit someone of a lower station. The Prisha points this out from the fact that Hashem had visited Avrohom Avinu. Indeed, even an elderly person should visit someone younger and there is no exemption of it not being in accordance with the honor of the elderly person (see Minchos Yitzchok Vol. II #84)
There are no limitations on the Mitzvah, and it may be performed many times each day. This is the wording of the Tur, even though the Talmud states “one hundred times per day.” Perhaps the Tur changed the wording to several times since it may overly burden the sick person. This is a very important caveat and that is that one not bring addition stress on the sick person. Sometimes, indeed, very often, the sick person is not up to visitors and requires. Rav Yoseph Chaim Sonnenfeld zatzal wrote a fascinating response on the question of visitation hours. Although the Gemorah tells us not to visit in the morning because the sick person looks healthier than he or she actually is and not to visit in the later hours because the visitor may give up hope on the ill person and thus not pray, Rav Sonnenfeld (Salmas Chaim 4:64) advises to keep the hospital’s visiting hours. The reason is that they were established to ensure the health of all the hospital’s patients and we must be sensitive to this.
VISITING ON SHABBOS
It is permitted to visit the sick on Shabbos. One says to the ill person “Shabbos hi miliz’ok u’refuah krovah lavoh – Shabbos from crying out – and a cure is quick to come.” This is only if one was unable to do so during the week. It is inappropriate to push it off from the weekday to do so on Shabbos.
WOMEN TO MEN AND MEN TO WOMEN
The Tzitz Eliezer (Ramat Rochel 5:16) writes that Bikkur Cholim should not be done by men to women nor by women to men. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Ovadiah Yoseph, and the Aruch haShulchan all write otherwise. There is, of course, the caveat that the laws of Yichud not be violated, nor that there be any breach of Tznius.
RAV OVADIAH’S ANSWER
He responded that, in fact, Yeshiva students should make time for Bikkur Cholim. Although the essential obligation of Yeshiva students is to learn Torah, nonetheless, Gmilus Chassadim and the other Mitzvos still apply. They should be performed outside of seder hours when possible, and if there is no one to do it during the day and there is necessity, some sort of rotation should be created.
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