Talking Through Pain


Have you ever picked up the phone to make a call to someone who was sick and wondered what you ‎should say? The saga doesn’t end with the conclusion of the conversation, for then, after the call your ‎conscience still bothers you; did I say the right thing? You are not alone, the kind and sensitive individual is ‎in a quandary; what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. How do I convey care, compassion and ‎interest yet still leave the patient with their privacy? What do I say to ease the burden without sounding ‎callous? Is asking how they are feeling, too intrusive? ‎

In Judaism, as laid out by the Torah, the paragon of good characteristics is none other than Hashem ‎himself. We are told not only to emulate His attributes such as kindness, mercy and compassion but we are ‎to also imitate His actions. Just as Hashem comforts mourners (Yitzchak), buries the dead (Moshe) and ‎visits the sick (Avrohom) so too, we should we involve ourselves in these benevolent and considerate ‎endeavors. ‎

Lets us copy Hashem and let Him be our guide and we will thereby see for ourselves how best to visit the ‎sick, and how this changes the emotional well-being of the patient. Hashem visits Avrohom on the third ‎day after his Bris. Tradition tells us that this day happens to be the time when the pain is most intense. At ‎this juncture we could expect Hashem to inform Avrohom of the light at the end of the tunnel for ‎tomorrow Avrohom, you will be over the hill and will be feeling better. Perhaps Hashem could enlighten ‎him with some healing remedies, or provide a diversion to take his mind off the pain. But Hashem chooses ‎to pose Avrohom a question; a most startling question.‎

Hashem asks Avrohom “How are you doing?” We can rest assured that Hashem himself knows the ‎rejoinder to this query. We can also be guaranteed that Avrohom knew that the questioner – Hashem – ‎was also aware what his response would be. So what is the point of this dialogue, in which both the ‎interviewer and the interviewee are knowledgeable of the reply?‎

There is a great psychological insight to be learned, which will direct humans to exemplary fulfillment in ‎the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim: Avrohom was lonely, he had not been visited by any friends and wayfarers, ‎and because of this friendship void his pain was bottled up inside. Hashem, in paying his visit helped this ‎righteous invalid by giving him an opportunity to articulate his discomfort and to speak about his feelings. ‎Having a listening ear is in of itself a tension reliever. The ability to communicate one’s inner sensations ‎goes a long way to being able to tolerate pain. People feel better just by being able to convey their ‎emotions to someone else. Hashem and Avrohom both knew the answer to Hashem’s query, but the ‎question facilitated an outlet for Avrohom’s ache. ‎

Next time you call someone on the phone or visit them in person try to follow Hashem’s model. Certainly if ‎you are called upon to run an errand or deal advice don’t hesitate to do so, this too is Bikur Cholim and will ‎help alleviate the patient’s stress, but also try and emulate Hashem, and give the person a chance to ‎express their feelings. ‎

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