You see them coming and going at The William Breman Jewish Home, men and women visiting the sick. Many, like me and my family, are spending time with a parent. Others are visiting friends and still others are volunteers. All are carrying out one of the most ancient of Jewish traditions, bikur holim, an act of loving kindness, gemilut hasadim.
The belief, among the faithful, is that this mitzvah can be traced all the way back to a visit God had with Abraham, when the patriarch was recovering from circumcision. So today, when Jews visit someone who is ill they are, essentially, emulating God.
Well, maybe. I’m not certain I know many people who are thinking about things cosmic and divine when they pull into the Breman. It’s a wonderful facility, but it’s a tough place to visit. There is much life and fun here, thanks to the good will and professionalism of the staff. But there is also much death and dying.
And perhaps that’s the point of the commandment. It takes a little effort, and in reaching out to those who are sick, we all find a bit of healing inside ourselves also.
Our ancient ancestors were wise and understood there are rules and guidelines needed to build a civilized society. There are all those iconic commandments we learn in childhood, prohibitions against murder and stealing, lying and cheating. They’re important and serve as a solid foundation for nations to build upon, grow and prosper.
But what defines us as humans, beings filled with a sense of what is right, wrong and Godly, are acts of loving kindness, gemilut hasadim, that we find detailed in the Torah and fleshed out further in the Talmud.
It’s these acts that bring us together and create community. It’s loving kindness that offers light when all seems dark. It’s how I’ll be spending my time this Shabbat.