Ethics

For the week ending 5 January 2008 / 27 Tevet 5768

When to Visit the Sick

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Question: I am aware that it is a mitzvah to visit the sick. My experience has shown, however, that there may be times when such a visit is not only unwelcome but also even counterproductive because of the patient's condition. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: There definitely are things to be taken into consideration when visiting the sick. Although our halachic sources state that there is no limit to the visits one should make to the ill, this is true only if the visitor does not become a burden on the patient.

This consideration applies not only to the number of visits but to the length of the visit and its timing. You should be sensitive to subtle signals from the patient that you have overstayed your visit. But even before scheduling your visit it pays to contact either the patient or someone close to him to inquire when it is best to visit.

Another dimension in timing is presented by the Talmudic Sages based on the role which prayer plays in achieving recovery. One should not visit in the early hours of the day when the patient's condition appears better than it really is because he will mistakenly feel that there is no need to pray for him. A visit during the last hours is also discouraged because the poor appearance of the patient may mistakenly create the impression that he is beyond help and prayer is futile.

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