Ezra Habif is our Synagogue Administrator. His d’var Torah below for parashat Veyera is a beautiful meditation on Abraham being visited by the angels post-circumcision, and how that connects to the mitzvah of bikur cholim (“visiting the sick”).
“G-d appeared to him (Avraham Avinu) in the Plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot.” (Opening sentence of VaYeira).
This Torah portion is a continuation of last week’s portion of Lech Lecha. At the end of last week’s portion, we learn that Avraham had circumcised his sons Isaac and Ishmael and he then circumcised himself. In ParashatVaYeira, it had now been three days since Avraham had performed this procedure, so G-d decides to pay him a visit by sending 3 angels. The Rabbis say that G-d waited three days because the third day after such a procedure is usually the toughest (most uncomfortable) to deal with. Yet, Avraham being the welcoming and altruistic soul that he was was sitting by the entrance to his tent ready to welcome and give nourishment to any passerby.
The first part of this parasha deals with the mitzvah of Visiting the Sick (bikur cholim). This is one particular mitzvah that, simply put, is never any fun. Even being around someone with something as minor as a common cold can be depressing. They feel down so they make others around them feel down and nervous about catching a cold too. However, visiting and taking care of the “unwell” is an obligation and simply a nice thing to do, but few choose to do it by choice.
Aside from the mitzvah aspect of it, there is another positive side. The person who is doing the visiting will not only cheer-up the person who is ill, but it will make him better appreciate his own health - without having to get sick himself.
Nevertheless, bikur cholim is not one of those activities in life that people look forward to - but maybe they should. It may not be where “life is at,” but it is where G-d’s presence (the Shechinah) “is at.” As Rashi simply put:
G-d appeared to him (in the form of 3 angels) to simply inquire about his health & welfare. By entering the room to visit a sick person, one is figuratively wrapping oneself in G-d’s presence – G-d’s Shecinah.
But one might ask – there are so many other ways one can wrap oneself in the shechinah that would actually be fun and exciting (i.e. attending a wedding, a bris, singing and dancing during Simchat Torah, etc.); after all, those are things that people look forward to doing. But visiting the sick …Oy!
At the very least, visiting the sick is a sobering experience. It reminds us of our physical vulnerability and of our mortality. It is certainly not exciting, but in the very least it makes us recall that life is not all fun-and-games, or even close to it.
A doctor was once asked by his patient, “Why am I sick?” The doctor replied, “Don’t ask me why you’re sick! Ask me why you are not sick more often, or even ALL of the time!” The fact is that there are a million things that can go wrong with a body at any given time, and the fact that even a few of them don’t, is nothing short of an amazing gift and miracle!”
Perhaps this is the most important aspect of visiting the sick, other than helping the person who is not well. It reminds us that life is a HUGE miracle that we most often take for granted.
In the scheme of things, people don’t realize is that even a heart does not beat the same way each minute. The fact that our bodies function as harmoniously as they do is a tremendous miracle - neis. The fact that they do so as consistently as they do for so many years is an even greater neis. The fact that they can do so with other bodies trying to do the same thing, only magnifies the miracle, especially given how much our bodies have to adapt to surrounding conditions that could easily kill a person.
The immune system itself should be enough to make a person believe in G-d. It’s at war with all the dangerous elements of the outside world 24/7. For the most part, it fights so “quietly” that we forget we even have an immune system. It’s only once a person gets sick and feels “run down” that they realize that they should take better care of themselves and strengthen their immune system.
If someone becomes terminally ill, G-d forbid, then it becomes clear how miraculous good health really is. It is amazing that G-d made the immune system flexible enough that man can work with it, take care of it, and even compensate for it when it falters. But it has limits – and those limits exist for the purpose of reminding us of who REALLY controls our health and just how much of a miracle it really is.
This is why visiting the sick is such an eye-opener. We may be visiting someone ill but we are also “visiting” our own miraculous existence – and at times confronting our own personal fears. By taking time out from our “healthy” life to enter the world of the “unhealthy,” a person puts G-d back into their “health” picture and eventually back into their life.