The laws of visiting the sick.
1. It is a great mitzvah to visit the sick. As soon as it becomes known that someone got sick, his close friends and relatives start visiting him. Other people begin visiting after he is sick for three days. However, if one becomes seriously sick spontaneously, then everybody can visit him immediately.
2. One should never consider it beneath his dignity to visit a sick person. If it is possible, one should pay as many visits as it takes, as long as it does not bother the sick.
3. If a person has an enemy, he should not visit him. Similarly if a sick person or a mourner dislikes somebody, that person should not visit him. Note, that in general it is forbidden to hate another Jew, we are talking about a case when somebody has enemies despite the prohibition. In such a case, if the enemy visits him, it will look like he is happy. Obviously this rule might have exclusions. In some cases, through visiting one’s enemy it is possible to make him into a friend, therefore in each case a Rabbi should be asked for an advice.
4. A sick person or a mourner does not have to get up out of respect neither before elderly nor before Torah scholars.
5. The Talmud teaches us that the Divine Presence is
near a sick person. For this reason, if the sick is lying on the floor, one
should not sit down next to him on a chair. When we pray for his recovery in
his presence, the supplication can be said in any language and it is not
necessary to mention his name. However, if the prayer is said at a different
location, we should say it in Holy Tongue and mention the name – such and such,
the son of such and such woman. In general, whenever we pray for someone’s
recovery, we should include all other sick Jewish people in our prayer, asking
the Creator to send him healing among the rest of the children of
6. The main part of visiting the sick, besides the prayer for recovery, is making sure the sick has everything he needs – medicine, food etc. Often a sick person is very bored, the visitor can try to tell him some stories. If the sick is able to learn Torah, one can try to teach him something he is able to concentrate on. In our day, when there are tape recorders and CD players, a good advice is to offer some Torah tapes from easy ones with stories about righteous people to harder ones teaching Torah laws, etc. Note also, that there are free lectures one can hear on telephone, in English hundreds of lectures are available for example at (718) 252-1008, presented by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. Today, it is also possible to bring many Jews closer to Torah and therefore visiting the sick takes an additional meaning. Helping a sick person one also does a Kiddush Hashem – sanctification of the Divine Name. Every religious community has a Bikur Cholim organization which takes care of visiting the sick and helps them in every way.
7. The Torah permits us to use the treatment of doctors. Moreover, in cases of danger for life, all of the Torah’s prohibitions can be broken to save it, thus a dangerously sick person eats on Yom Kippur, Shabbos is broken to bring him to the hospital, etc. The exclusions are the prohibitions against idolatry, forbidden relations and killing. On the other hand, if there is no danger for life, the Torah’s prohibitions are not broken for treating a sick person. For this reason, a sick person should not eat non-kosher food even if it is needed for treatment. However, if the non-kosher food or medicine has bad taste or no taste, it’s prohibition is only Rabbinical and it can be eaten for treatment. However, if the food includes milk and meat of kosher animals cooked together it can not be eaten even if it has bad taste.
8. Despite the fact that the Torah permits going to doctors, we should place our hope on the Creator’s help and pray for speedy recovery. The sick should examine his deeds and correct whatever possible. Most people, when they get sick, ask others to pray for them, this applies especially to asking righteous people whose prayers are more readily accepted. It is customary that the sick person gives more to tzedoko. In Parshas Matos we discuss that it is preferable not to make any oaths, however, a dangerously sick person is permitted to take on himself additional obligations by making oaths.
9. If the sick person is likely to approach his last hour, he should be reminded to confess his sins and to do Teshuvah. He should be reminded that many people confessed and yet continued to live, and there are those who did not confess and died, so by confessing his sins he does not increase the danger. Even at the end of life, much can be corrected by sincere repentance. Note, that we break Shabbos in order to increase the life of a person for even a short time. One of the reasons is that in these extra minutes, he might be able to repent and rectify what can still be rectified. If the sick person has no strength for long confessions, he should say: “My God, please send me a speedy recovery for my treatment is in Your hands. However, if I die, please let my death be atonement for my sins and please give me a share in Gan Eden among the righteous”. The sick person should also ask forgiveness from the people he sinned against.
10. A deathly sick person should take care of his property and that his depts should be paid. He should decide how much he wants to give to tzedoko, but he should keep at least 2/3 of the money for the inheritors. (Note, that if he wants to distribute the inheritance among his relatives differently than the law of Torah, he should discuss with a Rabbi how to arrange it. If no arrangement was made, than the property has to be distributed according to the Torah law and not the law of the country, but each case has to be discussed with a Rabbi.) The one who has small children needs to make arrangements about their future. It is usually a good idea to write a special letter to the children with advice about how to behave. Often the children listen to their father’s will more than to a Rabbi or anybody else. It is important to mention that the main purpose of our existence is to keep the Torah’s commands and we should be extra careful regarding the most common sins – for instance, gossip. Women should be told of the importance of dressing modestly, for these laws are often ignored by many people. Regarding the other commandments, everyone knows what his children need to be reminded of, different people have different tests in life and those mitzvos that are more difficult for someone to keep need to be retold.
11. A sick person should not be bothered by anything. In his presence we don’t mention others who passed away even if they are his own relatives. Rabbi Moshe Shtarnbuch writes that a person who has incurable cancer should not be told about it. Certainly in each case one should ask a Rabbi.