We have seen in the past weeks that it is a great mitzva to visit the sick and there are a number of reasons behind the mitvza, including providing for his needs, showing that you care about him, and praying for him.
We will now discuss some of the details involved in this mitzva. – Close relatives and friends should visit the patient in the early days of his sickness whilst more distant friends should visit at a later date. However, if the sickness struck very quickly then everyone can visit immediately.
– The best way of fulfilling the mitzva is to personally go to the patient. However, if this is not practical, then it is certainly praiseworthy to at least phone him. By doing this he can show the patient that people are thinking of him and he can pray for him.
– A person should be willing to extend considerable effort to visit someone that he knows who is sick. However, he is not obligated to miss work and suffer financial loss in order to visit him.
– There is no limit to how much one should visit the patient unless it becomes a burden on him to have so many visitors.
– If the patient is suffering from a highly contagious disease then only those who are directly attending him should attend him. Anyone else need not put himself at risk by visiting him. Indeed many Rabbis hold that it is actually forbidden to do so because it is prohibited to put oneself in a dangerous situation. However, if the disease is only slightly contagious then this prohibition does not occur. Each case should be dealt with according to its specific details.
– Some Rabbis hold that one should not visit his enemy1 who is sick because he will feel that the visitor is gloating over his sickness. Others disagree and say that visiting him shows that you want to make peace. An advisable approach would be to send a message to the sick enemy asking if he would mind if his you visit him, in that way the aforementioned concern can be avoided. Indeed this could provide a great opportunity to make peace.
– There are certain situations where the patient may not want to receive visitors due to the nature of his sickness. In such a case, his wish should be respected and he should not be visited. It may nonetheless be commendable to phone him if he would not be adverse to a phone call.
– A sick person who is approaching death should be told to confess his sins and that anyone who confesses genuinely is assured of a place in the Next World .2 He should also be advised to ask forgiveness from anyone he offended and to give charity.
1 The fact that the Rabbis discuss the case of an enemy does not imply that it is acceptable to have enemies. In most cases it is forbidden and one must always strive to make peace.
2 Of course this should be done in as sensitive a way as possible so as not to frighten him about oncoming death.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and Torah.org