Judaism mandates that we visit the sick (bikur cholim), assuring the dignity of the patient and affirming the power of community. When we visit those who are ill, our job is to be present, kind, and ready to listen. To hold space for whatever they want or need to say; to take their cues about what they want to discuss; to let them rest when they need to – these are our obligations as well.
Among Jewish tradition’s most sacred callings is to visit the sick (bikur cholim). It’s a gift we give by our presence, caring and compassion. When our loved ones and especially parents fall ill, this special blessing can bring extra challenges. The presence, caring and compassion we offer ailing parents become important to give ourselves as caregivers, especially when illness causes family routines and roles to change.
Illness focuses our attention on the fragility of our health. Questions will arise about why illness happens, for both the patient and the caretakers. Some will understand their infirmity as a challenge, others as an opportunity, and some will believe it is a punishment. Along with the affliction comes a flood of emotional responses such as panic, hope, sadness or determination.
Some reject illness as a failure. We may expect all of our preventative health care to have kept us healthy and when we are ill we may assume that modern medicine will cure us. However, there are many kinds of healing. Healing is not only curing the body. Healing may be of the soul as well – with open-heartedness for regret, forgiveness, acceptance, reconciliation and love.
In Torah we read, “I am your healer. On life’s journeys you will face the seas of struggle, celebration, fear and joy, and whatever comes, I am there to heal and guide you.” (Exodus 15:26, as translated by R’ Yael Levy of A Way In) When one has been sick, whether physically or emotionally or spiritually, one may feel cut off from the community or cut off from spiritual life. But Torah depicts God as our healer, the One Who is with us in sickness and in health. May we feel accompanied as we walk the journey of healing, even when “healing” doesn’t or can’t mean a cure for what ails us.