Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council

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What is Bikur Cholim

Bikur cholim, "visiting the sick," in Hebrew, is a term encompassing a wide range of activities performed by an individual or a group to provide comfort and support to people who are ill, homebound, isolated and/or otherwise in distress. Bikur cholim can include such activities as: visiting patients in a hospital, rehabilitation center or nursing home; visiting people who are restricted to their home because of physical or psychological impairment or social isolation; taking people who are ill or impaired on errands or field trips; providing telephone contact and reassurance to those who are ill or homebound.

The act of bikur cholim is a mitzvah, a moral and spiritual obligation incumbent upon all Jews to perform. The Bible tells us that human beings are created in the image of God and instructs us to aspire to be like God by emulating God’s ways. God visits Abraham while he was recuperating after being circumcised (Genesis 17:26-18:1). The Talmud (Biblical Commentary) teaches us that "As He visited the sick, so shall you visit the sick…"

Bikur cholim is an essential quality of good interpersonal relationships. It reflects the primary Biblical value, "And you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). By fulfilling this role, we deeply enrich both our lives and the lives of those we visit. When we visit we attain a spiritual dimension that goes well beyond a simple personal expression of caring and links us with generations past, present and future. Indeed, we are linked not only to the entire Jewish people, but to all humanity, as well, emulating the G-dly attributes of compassion and lovingkindness.

The Talmud makes references to scholars and disciples making visits to the sick. The local Bikur Cholim Society was one of the principle institutions established by Jewish communities, the first one formed at the time of the Middle Ages. Bikur cholim groups continue to exist to this day, in all parts of the world, with people making the commitment to care for one another, and bring the strength of community and connection of Jewish heritage to the bedside.

Why is bikur cholim important?

  • Because people need to feel connected to the community especially when they are ill or homebound.
  • Because bringing the community to the bedside lifts the spirit of those who may feel forgotten.
  • Because studies have shown that social contact and support positively influences those needing and receiving comfort.
  • Because visiting and caring activities helps build community and character.
  • Because we are acting in a G-dly way when we visit.

What kinds of things do bikur cholim visitors do? Bikur cholim visitors are involved in manifold ways of helping — either as an individual, in an "army of one," or as part of a coordinated team effort. There are so many ways one can help, caring gestures include:

  • Visit a patient in the hospital/nursing home, or visit the homebound.
  • Call a homebound senior before Shabbos.
  • Bring food to a family with a new baby.
  • Drive someone to a doctor’s appointment.
  • Help a child, whose parent is hospitalized, with homework.
  • Say psalms together or on behalf of the ill.
  • Take someone's car to be filled with gas.
  • Bring gift certificates from places which deliver food, so a family can make its own food choices and not feel dependent on what others cook for them.
  • Call when you are at the store, and say "I am here. What can I pick up for you?"
  • Share your hobbies, such as baking, singing or writing.
  • Smile.
  • Listen.

Opportunities to help are as varied as the individuals and groups who perform them.

"If we perform no kind of deeds, we have not understanding….The greater our good deeds, the greater our understanding." – Chassidic Anthology

"Our generation, as those before and after us, will be judged by how we listen to those who are sick and vulnerable and to those who care for them. In the end, there is no them. There is only us."
—Rabbi Simkha Weintraub in Sh’ma, March 2003

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©2011 Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council
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