Helping parents, teachers, and students of many faiths pursue Biblical wisdom.

Title: Bikkur Cholim

Major Focus: Visiting the Sick

Minor Focus: Circumcision, B'rit Milah

Abstract: God came to visit Abraham after his circumcision to see if he was recovering properly. Visiting the sick is a very special mitzvah.

Format: Midrash


"Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he circumcised himself...and God appeared to him by his camp at Mamre."

Genesis 17:24 and 18:1

God told Abraham to circumcise himself and his thirteen year old son, Ishmael. It is one thing to be circumcised when you are only eight days old, the way a B'rit Milah is usually done, but it is quite another to be circumcised when you are all grown up! Abraham lived in a time when there were no nice clean hospitals to go to, no sharp stainless steel surgical instruments, and no anesthetics to take pain away. Not only that, but God told him to circumcise himself! Wow, that must have hurt!

Anyway, afterwards we are told that God came to see Abraham while he was at home. The Torah does not tell us what they talked about, but it does make it clear that God paid Abraham a visit while he was recovering from his surgery. That was very nice of God and it teaches us a very important lesson -- one performs a special mitzvah by visiting a sick person.

Rabbi Hama bar Hanina said (Baba Metzia 86b) that God specifically came to see Abraham after his circumcision to make sure he was all right. The Rabbis say that by visiting sick people we can help take away some of their sickness. It is especially helpful if we can do something to make the sick person feel better by making sure that they are getting enough rest, that they have the proper medicine, good food, a comfortable place to stay, and that we try to help with anything that might be worrying them.

During the medieval period of history in Europe, there were special Jewish clubs or societies of people who made it their business to visit and care for sick people. These were called the Bikkur Cholim Societies. To this very day, many Jewish communities continue to maintain clubs like this for people who want to do a very special kind of a mitzvah.

The Jewish chaplin is a person who visits sick people in their homes or in the hospital. A story is told by a chaplin who served at the National Institutes of Health near Washington D.C.. He wrote that one day he went to see an elderly lady in the hospital. She was pale, sickly, weak and had several tubes attached to parts of her body.

She said to him, "I have been here for six weeks and you are the first Jewish person except for my family who has come to see me. I was the president of the synagogue sisterhood. I volunteered for years. I thought I had many, many friends. I have not had a phone call, a visit, or a card!"

Visiting a sick person lets them know that we care about them, that we want them to get better, and that we will ask God to help make them well again. That kind of visit does a lot for a sick person's morale. Doctors know very well that morale has a lot to do with how completely and how fast people recover from an illness.

Even when a person has an illness from which they probably will not recover, they still need to know that we love them and care about them. There probably aren't too many things in this world worse than being very sick and dying, thinking that no one loves you anymore. Don't let that happen to someone you know.

Challenge Questions

  1. What is circumcision? When is it normally done? Who does it and where? Why would it be so difficult for an adult to circumcise himself? Have you ever known any adults who became circumcised? Why?
  2. This is the only place in the Torah we are told that God visited someone, but no reason is given. Why do you think God came? Why is this the only example of a Divine visit with no reason given?
  3. Have you ever visited someone who was really sick? How did it make you feel doing it? Were you nervous? Scared? Glad to do it? How did it make the sick person feel?
  4. What is the advantage of having a club or a society devoted to the performance of special mitzvot? Can't people do those things just as easily on their own?
  5. What does a chaplin do? Have you ever met a hospital or a military chaplin? What do you think the lady in the hospital was so bitter about when she talked to the chaplin?
  6. Why is morale so important? What difference can love make to getting a person over an illness? What difference can love mean to a dying person?