You might be surprised to learn that while most doctors don't make house calls these days, apparently God still does. That's the lesson that we learn from the Torah portion, Parshat Vayerah.
Any discussion of the mitzvah of Bikkur Holim, visiting the sick, begins with Genesis, chapter 18. While the Torah doesn't specifically mention this Mitzvah, this commandment, it does teach us this lesson by example. The opening words of the Parshah are "Vayerah Adonai elav - And the Lord appeared to Abraham." What a dramatic statement this is! Elsewhere God speaks to Abraham, he calls on him, but He never "appears" to him. As our above-the-line text mentions, this is the rare occasion when God appears without any formal act or worship or the building of an altar. Why then, did God choose to appear to Abraham at this particular moment in time?
This story, we're told, is the basis of an important but oft-forgotten Mitzvah – Bikkur Holim, visiting the sick. The sages point out that last week's Torah portion ends with Abraham's circumcision at the tender age of ninety-nine. As you know, Abraham has done this circumcision himself, and he’s done (or overseen) the circumcision of all the males of his extended family—including Ishmael, who was 13 years old at the time, and all the household slaves. As Parshat Vayerah opens, Abraham is recovering from his self-inflicted surgery. God appears to him at this moment, we are told, in order to comfort him as recuperates. The sages teach us that Bikkur Holim is not just a nice thing to do. Bikkur Holim is nothing less than an imitation of what God does. Just as God visits the sick, we must do the same.
As we think about a sick visit from God—THIS sick visit from God—we may be noticing that something we might expect DOES NOT happen. It seems strange, doesn’t it, that, despite the fact that God visits our forefather Abraham, the Torah says nothing about God curing him or lessening his pain. If the Rabbis were right -- that God appeared at Abraham's tent during his recovery from surgery, then one would have expected nothing less than a miracle from "Rofey Kol Basar," "the Healer of all Flesh," as our tradition calls God.
So, what's the point of God's house call, if not to heal Abraham? Jewish tradition teaches us that the purpose of Bikkur Holim is to provide the patient with the healing that precedes the cure. Nature will follow its own course, and we cannot control that course. Medicine and therapy, obviously, can help. And we must allow doctors and nurses to do their jobs. But visitors bring something equally important to the sick. A visitor brings the healing power of love. She has the ability to bring caring and empathy into the sick room. Like God, the visitor reminds the patient that he is created in the image of God. The visitor reaffirms the humanity of the patient at a time when the patient may feel more like a statistic or a diagnosis than a human being.
Let us remember this Mitzvah to fulfill it as often as we can.
Rabbi David Grossman
Rabbi Joshua Grossman