The mitzvah of bikur cholim is often neglected. We should include time in our schedules to spend time with those who are ill, but so many pressing reasons prevent us from doing so.
I was recently invited to the dedication ceremony of a new ward in a building used by a certain organization that would enable it to expand its activities. The man who financed this expansion is a pillar of chesed whom I will call Rubi. He crossed the ocean to participate in the event and told the following story (details slightly changed):
Once while on a business trip in a foreign country, Rubi overheard someone mention in the lobby of his hotel that a known businessman – who happened to be in the same country – had collapsed in the course of finalizing a business transaction and had been transferred to a local hospital, feeling very ill.
Rubi felt sorry for the man. Being sick is never pleasant, but it is especially traumatic when far from home. Rubi tried to imagine what it felt like to be hospitalized in a foreign country surrounded by strangers who don’t even speak your language. His heart went out to the man as he thought of the ordeal he must be going through. On the spur of the moment, he decided to give up some of his precious time to visit the businessman, hoping he could somehow lift his mood.
No one in the hotel knew which hospital he had been admitted to, so Rubi approached the desk and asked the clerk to call every medical establishment and inquire whether someone answering to the name of Mr. K. had been admitted. Sure enough, the fifth phone call bore fruit. The patient had been located.
Rubi hailed a taxi and went off with the sole intention of fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim. Mr. K. was deeply touched by the visit. Being in a distant country, he hadn’t anticipated any visitors, and the two had a very pleasant conversation. Mr. K. thanked his kind visitor effusively, and a warm relationship ensued between the two.
Sadly, Mr. K. was diagnosed with a terminal disease, and a private plane was hired to fly him back home. But the relationship that had been established continued, and a friendship slowly developed between them. Frequent visits to the hospital back in their home country became common.
One day, Mr. K. confided to Rubi that he had never before had an opportunity to establish a relationship with an observant Jew and that this first contact with the “frum world” had changed his whole perspective on it. Rubi had gained his respect and admiration, and Mr. K. asked him if he would be willing to distribute a portion of his wealth to the less fortunate in Israel.
Rubi of course said yes, and, not long after, charities started receiving funds from Mr. K.’s estate and buildings were erected in his name.
On the words in Shema, “Veahavta es H’shem Elokecha – And you should love Hashem, your G-d,” our Sages say, “Sheyehei shem Shamayim misahev al yadcha – Through you, the name of heaven should be loved.” Rubi amply fulfilled this dictum. And his example should remind us not only that the mitzvos enrich us in so many ways, but that we are representatives of G-d, fashioned in His image, and have the capacity to increase love to H’shem by the way we act.