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“Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamrei while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day” (Bereishis 18:1).
Rashi brings the words of the Sages that it was the third day since Avraham had circumcised himself and Hashem came to visit the sick.

Avraham Avinu was ninety nine years old and had undergone surgery without anesthesia. While recovering from his illness, Hashem came to visit him.

Later in the Torah (Devarim 13:5), we are commanded to follow Hashem. The Gemara (Sotah 14a) explains this to mean that we should emulate Him and go in His ways. One of the things listed is that just as Hashem visited the sick so should we. But, like every mitzvah, it must be performed properly and with careful consideration.

I once made a foolish mistake when, as a bochur (an unmarried young man), I visited Rabbi Nevenansky z”l who was suffering (I believe) from a brain tumor Rachamana litzlon. The next day, his son, Chaim, told me that his father had appreciated the visit but that I had stayed a bit too long and it was difficult for him to sit with me until I left. When I mentioned this to my Rebby, shlita, he asked me why I had overstayed my visit. I explained that it is considered impudent, when visiting a rabbi, to get up and leave before being dismissed by him. My Rebby responded that in this situation it was different since the rabbi would not want to offend his visitor who had taken the time and exerted the effort to visit him by telling him to leave, Therefore, he said, I should have been thoughtful enough to leave on my own. He then told me the following, very interesting, vort.

When Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law, Yisro, gave him advice on how to be a good leader of Israel, he told him, “And you shall make known to them the path in which they should go and the deeds that they should do” (Shemos 18:20). The Gemara (Bava Kama 100a) dissects this passage and interprets Yisro’s directive into several teachings. The phrase “in which they should go” is explained to mean that Moshe should instruct them to go and visit the sick. However, my Rebby said, some explain that there is an underlying message here. Sometimes, one visits someone who is sick and weak and stays too long. Although his intentions are admirable, his actions are counterproductive because rather than make the patient feel better he strained him of the little strength he had. Therefore, they say, Yisro told Moshe to teach the Children of Israel common sense to visit the sick but to always take into consideration “the path in which they should go,” meaning that they should calculate properly when they should take leave of the one they came to visit!

I believe that there is much to be learned from Hashem’s visit to Avraham when he was sick. I’m sure that Hashem did not just simply wish Avraham a refuah sheleimah (a speedy recovery) and then leave him to continue suffering. I imagine that He actually healed him then and there. Similarly, we are to follow in His way and not merely visit the sick but to try to heal him too. How can we do that? Well, sometimes we can actually help him recover by providing him with his needs, whatever they are, depending upon the situation. But besides that, we have an obligation to pray for him. Indeed, the codifiers of the laws of visiting the sick took this into consideration when they ruled (in Shulchan Aruch, Yore De’ah 335:4) that one should not visit the sick the first three hours of the day because then he usually feels better and the visitor will not think that he has to pray for him; nor during the last three hours of the day, because then he usually feels much worse and the visitor will not pray for him, thinking that it’s useless. Indeed, the Ramah adds that one who visits the sick and does not pray for him has not achieved his obligation and has not fulfilled the mitzvah.

In Igros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah, Vol. I, Siman 223), Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein ztvk”l discusses whether one can perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick by telephone. He concludes that although if he cannot visit he should phone, because he does fulfill some parts of the mitzvah in this way, nevertheless, if he can go himself he is obligated to do so. One of the reasons, he says, is because he will be more impressed with the patient’s situation, and will pray for him better, if he actually sees him rather than just hears about it.

I once heard Rabbi Pivovitz, shlita, speak about how cautious one must be when visiting the sick. Often the patient does not know how serious his condition is. However, he can sometimes read the gravity of the situation in the face of his visitor. Therefore, he said, it is very important to always show a positive disposition so that he will continue to hope for his recovery.

This, by the way, is not just a question of letting the ill be more comfortable by duping themselves into thinking that they are all right. King Shlomo taught (Koheles 18:14), “The spirit of a man will endure his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear.” This means, and it is definitely confirmed by doctors, that when the sick person believes that he can endure, he actually helps his body recover! But if he becomes despondent, he can hamper his own recuperation chas veshalom.

May Hashem send a speedy, complete recovery, to all of the sick in Israel, Amen.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel