Seeing the sick person will arouse greater compassion and the ensuing prayers will be more fervent
“And Avram passed through the land, until the place of Shechem…” (Bereishis12:6)
Rashi explains that Avram traveled to Shechem to pray for Yaakov’s sons who’d attack the city in the future.
Rav Yosef Sorotzkin asks why it was necessary for Avram to actually travel to Shechem to pray there.
He explains that to pray for someone properly, you must truly feel his pain. Avram therefore went to absorb the atmosphere of Shechem. The emotions he’d experience there would enable him to daven with greater fervor. (Rabbi Shlomo Caplan, Mishulchan Shlomo)
Today is Mom’s a”h yahrtzeit. Thirteen years ago, I was in the middle of a difficult pregnancy that necessitated bed rest and constant doctor’s care.
Then we got the phone call from the States. My mother-in-law had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although she’d undergo surgery and treatments, the doctors were not optimistic. Her time was limited.
But I couldn’t possibly travel. Nor could I manage on my own while my husband traveled. We discussed every possibility with our rav, but it became clear that my husband’s place was at my side, miles away from his mother.
This is also why Yaakov buried Rochel by Beit Lechem. In the future, her descendants would pass there, and seeing her children shackled in chains would inspire her to pray with greater devotion.
The phone became our lifeline, as we monitored Mom’s progress and spoke to her daily. Sometimes she was coherent, her voice hopeful yet wistful. “You know what I can’t do anymore?” she said one day, “Reading Hebrew. That’s one of the first things that became impossible to do. I miss it the most.”
Mom had learned to read Hebrew later in life, and it was difficult for her, but she was always so excited about it. She used to recruit one of my girls to sit next to her when she davened so that they could help her if she got stuck. It would take her an entire hour to say Bircas Hamazon. But she was so proud each time she finished. That’s what she missed most.
Yet there were other conversations when she didn’t recognize my voice, wasn’t coherent. And as the months went by, the agony of being so far away deepened.
Then we were zocheh to the birth of a baby boy, and a few weeks later, newborn and all, we flew to see Mom.
Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l was asked if one can fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim over the phone. He responded that there are a number of aspects of bikur cholim that cannot be fulfilled by a phone call. One of the major purposes of bikur cholim is to pray for the sick person. While you can obviously pray for the choleh without being in their presence, Rav Moshe asserts that seeing the sick person will arouse greater compassion and the ensuing prayers will be more fervent.
I thought all the phone calls would have prepared me. But no descriptions, nothing, could have made me ready for the sight of the woman sitting there in the wheelchair. The illness and treatments had ravaged her face, so that her features were barely recognizable. Her eyes were vacant as she stared at me, as I dropped to the floor at her feet and reached up to stroke her check. Then suddenly, her hand reached out softly and she took mine.
“Hello. You came.” Her voice was flat, but in her eyes, there was recognition.
Those next few days were excruciatingly painful, but so important. I sat next to Mom, holding her hand over the baby’s soft skin, singing to her Eishes Chayil on Friday night. I told her about the children, reminisced about stories we’d shared, sang songs she’d taught me. Most of the time, she was indifferent. But at one seudah that Shabbos, she looked around the table where all her children sat and said with feeling, “This is wonderful!”
I leaned over to hold her hand, knowing that despite the illness masking Mom, she was happy we were there. It was so good that we came.
Mom was nifteres that Sunday morning. I knew it was coming, but still, I couldn’t believe it. Those last few days we’d all cried, davened, begged Hashem to let her stay with us, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Yet I was so grateful, so eternally thankful that we had those last few days, that we saw her and she knew we were there, right by her side, to tell her we loved her.
L’illui nishmas Adele bas Zalman Halevi
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 763)
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