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.