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    There is no shi’ur – Vayyera

    The Torah reading this week commences (Gen. 18:1) with bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. Abraham has had an operation and God comes to visit him.

    The Divine example establishes the age-old Jewish concern with alleviating an invalid’s pain by showing an interest in their situation.

    Halachah gives good advice as to when to visit, how long to stay, what to do to be helpful. However, it is one of those mitzvot which cannot be precisely measured.

    According to the first Mishnah in Pe’ah, read at the beginning of the morning prayers as an agenda for the day, bikkur cholim has no shi’ur, no quantitative limit.

    We might also read the word shi’ur in its other sense, as a unit of study. Any aspect of Judaism can be analysed and explained by a shi’ur, but usually shi’urim are academic and theoretical.

    When it comes to bikkur cholim the important thing is not to measure the moment against a set rule or procedure but to show human feeling and love.

    Sometimes there is no need for words. Simply being there brings a crucial message. Or holding the person’s hand, feeding them, humming their favourite melody, praying inside you without needing a siddur

    In some communities the synagogue asks the rabbi or cantor to visit the patient, but they should never give the impression that they are merely carrying out a duty.

    In the ideal situation the rabbi or cantor are the friends of the congregation and a sick visit is the visit of a friend.

    According to Maimonides (Hil’chot Evel 14), bikkur cholim fulfils the rule of “Love your fellow as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

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