Bikur Cholim, or visiting the sick, is a central mitzvah that nowadays is shouldered primarily by rabbis.
“But it is a mitzvah that is prescribed for everybody, men and women, rich and poor,” said Vicki Rosenstreich, director of training for the Rabbi Isaac N.Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council, which is part of New York’s Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. BCCC, working to re-ignite this tradition within the Jewish community, is sponsoring its 14th annual conference in November in New York, with workshops both for professionals and volunteers on how to comfort the sick.
“Jewish tradition says that if you don’t visit a patient, it’s as if you shed the blood of that patient,” Rosenstreich said. “Rabbinic sources say that it’s as if those who visit take away l/60th of a patient’s illness. Although,” Rosenstreich added, ” it doesn’t mean they are cured. But patients who have visitors tend to fare better.” Even the visitors benefit, she added. “Studies show that if the visitors feel they have done a good job, they get a ‘helper’s high,’ a rush of endorphins that remain in the body for about 20 minutes after the visit.”