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Parashat Vayeira

November 8, 2011

By Rabbi Enid Lader

“Adonai appeared to him in the terebinths of Mamre, while he was sitting in the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day” (Gen. 18:1). Through Rashi’s commentary on this verse, we learn that God’s appearance before Abraham was an act of bikkur holim – visiting the sick, and that Rabbi. Hama ben Hanina said, “It was the third day after his circumcision, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, came to inquire after him.” This is indeed the proof text for the mitzvah of visiting the sick, and there is much to learn from God’s example.

There is a time for sending a get well card… and there is a time for a personal visit. And this verse teaches us the importance of a personal visit. But not right away. The patient needs time to heal on his (or her) own. Moses Maimonides (Rambam) spells this out in his Mishneh Torah, as he delineates the procedures for visiting the sick (gleaned from the Talmud (Nedarim 39b-40a). He writes: “The duty of visiting the sick applies to everybody. Even a great person must visit one who is of minor importance.” He goes on to teach that “whoever visits a sick person, it is as though he took away part of his illness and lightened his pain. A sick person should be visited from the third day on. If his illness came on suddenly and his condition has become worse, he should be visited immediately…” (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Evel, 14:4-5).

We see this reflected in Rabbi Hama’s interpretation of our biblical text. God is present and visits on the third day after the “surgery.” What we do not see is the conversation God had with Abraham. What do you say when you visit? It is possible that the silence of our text is our clue. So much depends on the intensity of the patient’s illness. Beginning with silence, a smile, and a quiet hello, is a good start.

And what of the frequent visits? And visitors?

At the beginning of this past September I found out that a longtime friend of mine was very ill. Hospice had been called in, and she was being cared for at her home by the visiting hospice nursing staff. When I came to visit, my friend shared with me that over the weekend her home was filled with friends. All these people had come by to visit her, and she couldn’t get over it. “I didn’t know I had so many friends!” she exclaimed. Their visits brought her so much pleasure. Just their presence helped her feel supported. I continued to visit, and many times I was not the only person there. And that was okay. We would sit and quietly, sometimes not so quietly, regale each other with stories and memories of times shared. We laughed. We cried. And sometimes we were silent; just present.

The Talmud teaches that when one comes to visit a sick person, one should “wear dignified clothes and sit level with the sick person, because the  Shekhinah (God’s Presence) hovers above the bed of the sick person…” (Nedarim 40a). As God appeared to Abraham during his convalescence, I am very sure that the Shekhinah was present as we visited with Laurie… in the stories… in the laughter… in the tears… and in the silence.


Enid C. Lader is the rabbi for Knesseth Israel Temple in Wooster, Ohio and received ordination from AJR in 2010. This D’var Torah is dedicated to the memory of Laurie Kranyak, z”l, who passed away on Wednesday, October 19, 2011. May her family be comforted with the mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.