"And he said: 'Swear unto me.' And he swore unto him. And Israel bowed down upon the bed's head." (Bereshith 47:31)
This weeks alludes to the concept of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick). According to our , there are many different Biblical sources for the mitzwah of Bikur Cholim. The RMb"M 1 (Our Teacher) states that this Biblical mitzwah comes from the general commandment of "vahavta lreacha kamocha-- loving our fellow as we love ourself." 2 The RMb"M writes that one who visits the sick should be prepared to tell cheerful stories or engage in idle talk so that the patients mind will be temporarily distracted from his illness. The RMb"M adds that anyone who walks into a patients room should do so happily, since a patient is sensitive to the mood of the people who visit him.
According to Berachoth 12b, there is also a spiritual aspect to the mitzwah of Bikur Cholim. "One who is able to pray for a sick person and does not do so, is called a sinner."3 This goes along with the concept of not standing idly by our fellow man's blood...4
We know that prayer has the capability to heal from verses like 2 Kings 20:5: "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. Behold I will heal you". 5
Although such things as life, livelihood and children are to some extent influenced by merit and prayer, in the majority of cases, they too are still circumscribed by one's fortune. 6 However, the "fortune of man" does not nullify one's obligation to pray for the sick.
The concept of G-DLY fortune is demonstrated in this week's Parasha. Joseph's response to his brothers' reconciliatory offer to serve him in exchange for his forgiveness shows a straight forward example:
"But Joseph said to them, "Fear not, for am I instead of G-D? Although you intended me harm, G-D intended it for good; in order to accomplish-- it is clear as day-- that a vast people be kept alive". 7
On this verse, RaShY comments : "Joseph reassured his brothers, saying that he could not harm them even if he wanted to. If G-D would not permit them -- a large group of righteous people -- to harm him, how could he as an individual succeed in harming them?."
And further, Sforno says: "Am I a judge with the power to take G-D's place in analyzing whether his decree was proper and punish those who carried it out? You are nothing more than His agents!
Ultimately, HaShem is the one who controls the world. However, we are obligated to do everything in our power to pray for the sick.
1 Rabbi Moshe Ben
Maimon --born in 1135 in Cordova, Spain (a Davidic descendent of Rabbi Judah the Prince,
who compiled the Oral Jewish Law known as The Mishnah in the early part of second century
of the common era).
2 Vayikra 19:18
3 Rabbi Doniel Yehuda Neustadt, The Weekly Halachic Discussion, p. 99-101
5 For other references about the extent influence of prayer on life see Niddah 70b, Bava Kama 80b; Shabbath 151b; Eruvin 41b; Temurah 16a; RaShY, Shabbath 156a s.v Ein; Makkoth 11b
6 Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Handbook of Jewish Thought, Moznaim Publishers, p.298
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