by Nancy Coren
April 17, 2021
Tazria is a very interesting Torah portion because it discusses the disease of the skin called Tzaraat which really is considered to be a physical manifestation of a spiritual state of the afflicted individual. The person who is afflicted with tzaraat is taken to the Kohen, the priest. The priest is not allowed to jump to conclusions when first encountering the sick individual. The priest waits seven days to see if the tzaraat has spread or not. It is only after that waiting period, that the afflicted individual is either considered ritually impure or not.
What often happens when individuals read this parasha is that they think about how strange it is to take an infirm individual to a priest for rectification of one’s problems. Yet, if you think about it, our hospitals still have the need for religious leaders who meet with those who are sick. Chaplains in the hospital setting recognize that there is a spiritual aspect to healing as well as a need for good medicine.
Judaism truly recognizes that we are composed of both our bodies and our souls. Physicians can accomplish amazing things for us as they operate on us with the advanced knowledge of medical science, but they also understand that there is a dimension to us that is not affected by medical science. Let me tell you about the visits I have had to the bedsides of many in hospitals. Even when a person did not consider themself to be religious or observant, when an offer to say a prayer on their behalf was given the most amazing thing happened. Faces softened, a sense of inner peace, even in the face of death, seemed to fill the room. Thanks were often expressed for the opportunity to be part of the prayer experience. Sometimes that healing of the spirit filled a person with enough ease that they could meet the challenges of their physical ailments or even gave them permission to let go of this world . Spiritual healing is not to be taken lightly.
Although there can be words of prayer offered to an ill individual, just as important is one’s presence. Even a silent presence can be meaningful. There can be holding of another’s hand, looking into another’s eyes without words, a smile or a tear which speak to the soul of the patient who is suffering. The mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick teaches us that when G-d visited Abraham after his brit, the Divine Presence without any words was enough to heal Abraham.
There are halachik principles to abide by when visiting the sick. A major principle is to provide joy and relief to the ill without causing them to worry. One should also try to restore the sick person’s dignity which is often battered by long stays in a hospital where individuals are poked and prodded, awakened constantly, and have little or no choice in what goes on around them. How do you restore a sick person’s dignity? You merely remind them that you love them for who they are and not for what they are capable of doing!
Perhaps the ancient Israelites had a good handle on the need for spiritual healing. Perhaps the ancient Rabbis had a true understanding of the complex nature of sickness and debilitation and the need for performing the mitzvah of bikkur cholim.
We are in a time, however, when being with an individual who is sick with the cornavirus is not an option for us. We cannot visit our loved ones who are in isolation rooms and giving hugs is temporarily a thing of the past with such individuals. Tele-bikkur cholim is what we must resort to. Of course if there can be a face on the screen, that is helpful, but tone of voice is incredibly important. And knowing how to listen is as important as knowing what to say and what not to say. I saw a list of questions one can use rather than asking, “How are you?” They allow the individual who is sick to express themselves in a deeper way should they want to give more than a one word response. The questions include:
- How are you doing with all of this?
- How are your spirits?
- How are you hanging in?
- What do you need the most, right now?
- What’s helping you get through this?
- What’s been on your mind as you try to cope with all of this?
- What are some of the obstacles to your managing/coping?
"To show you’ve really listened, do not plan your reply while waiting for your turn to talk. Wait until the person talking finishes, so you can gather all the information before responding. Make a restatement or paraphrase. Reflect the feeling or emotion behind what you think was said. “ Rabbi Simcha Weintraub
May G-d grant each of us with good health and strong spirits. May we as a community realize the role we can play in the healing of our friends and relatives by doing the mitzvah of bikkur cholim. It is not a mitzvah simply reserved for spiritual leaders or chaplains, it is a mitzvah that applies to all Jews. May those we know who are physically suffering find peace of mind and spirit aided by the sense of caring that we exhibit toward them.
Mystic Pyramid by Primal Painter, July 2011 For more information on this painting.