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D'var Torah

Vayera by Hazzan Ozur Bass

Vayera, my bar-mitzvah portion and this week’s Torah reading, opens with The Merciful One’s appearing in front of Avraham: “God appeared to [Avraham] by the ‘terebinths’ of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Genesis 18:1). Rashi, the quintessential medieval commentator, explains it this way: “The Compassionate One appeared to him in order to visit the sick. R. Hama bar Hanina said: It was the third day after [Avraham’s] circumcision and the Holy Blessed One came to ask how he was doing” (Bava Metzia 86b). Because the Sages of old imagined that God behaves through attributes that humans need to emulate, they established, from this verse, that we must visit those who are sick: “The Torah teaches that, just like The Holy One visited the sick, so should you visit the sick” (Babylonian Sotah, 14A).

Visiting the sick, bikur holim, is considered gemilut hasadim, giving love (usually translated as acts of loving kindness). The Talmud (Babylonian Shabbat 127A) lists bikur holim as one of the six actions a person performs in this world, and nevertheless the benefits continues for them in the World-to-Come. We understand why we need to do it, but it can be daunting: there are questions of privacy, being intrusive, and the general discomfort of seeing someone not at their best time.

Our tradition also teaches us how to do it: “It is written in Psalm 18:36, ‘You have given me the shield of Your protection.’ According to the Midrash, ‘this verse refers to God’s protection of our ancestor Avraham.’ The verse continues, ‘…Your humility has made me great.’ This also refers to Avraham. In what way did God display humility to Avraham? The Midrash interprets the first verse of vayera to teach us that God stood while Avraham, who was healing from his circumcision, sat” (Genesis Rabbah 48:1). The important value to keep in mind when visiting someone who is sick, just like The Almighty did, is to be humble.

A patient at the hospital is not wearing their own clothes, and sometimes they are exposed, poked and prodded; nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff walk in their room at all hours; there are instruments that reveal their inner workings, displayed for all to see… That, in addition to being ill, or debilitated! The patient is a person at their most vulnerable. The way to deal with that is to be respectful of them, and give them all the power that they otherwise don’t have: knock and ask if this is a good time; ask if they want a visit, and don’t take it personally if they say no! Stand, unless asked to sit; or, if you need to sit, ask permission. In other words, be humble, like the Mighty One was when visiting Avraham.

Har Shalom’s Hesed committee exists to help you with that. If you know of someone who is ill, or at a low point, please refer them to the clergy or Har Shalom’s Hesed committee. We will do our best to bring them cheer and healing. And if you would like to be the one to visit but are not sure how to do it, there will be an orientation on Bikur Holim, visiting the sick, on January 15 and 22. I look forward to seeing you there.

Wishing you a Shabbat of love, humility, and healing.


Shabbat Shalom,

Hazzan Ozur Bass

Tue, November 19 2019 21 Cheshvan 5780