This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, has some gruesome details, but the heart of it is the question: how do we deal with illness? In the Torah, it seems that the treatment plan for most medical emergencies, from childbirth to skin disease, is basically quarantine and a good bath. Today, of course, we have much more thorough and specific treatments for most illnesses. However, too often, the ill are still at least temporarily cut off from society. Sometimes it is necessary for someone who is contagious or has a very weak immune system to be quarantined for a short while for their own health and the health of others. Sadly, though, even when it is not necessary, people remain in the hospital or at their homes, sick, for days or even weeks or months, with few or no visitors.
Our synagogue has made attempts to educate about the importance on Bikur Cholim, the Mitzvah of visiting the sick, and is starting to institute home visits for those who may feel as cut off from the community as those separated for their impurity in this week’s parasha. Even if those homebound live with family members, the family member caretakers might also feel cut off, alone, overwhelmed with their responsibility, and be in need a healing of spirit that can only be done with a visit from a friend. I myself have begun doing chaplaincy visits at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, and it is clear that some people need a visitor more than they need their doctors and nurses. Often, the business of visiting the homebound, the sick, the lonely, is kind of serious work for adults. But it can start young! Kids, you too can complete the mitzvah of bikur cholim! If you notice that your friend or classmate is out sick from school, call him or her and ask what’s going on. If they aren’t too contagious, offer to bring them their homework or some chicken soup, and go visit them for a bit. If it isn’t possible for you to go visit them directly, you can still keep them company by phone. I suggest actually calling and talking to them, so that they can feel more connected to you, but obviously, if they’ve just had their tonsils out or something, texting might also be an option. The important thing is that you reach out.
We no longer live in a society with priests who have the sole power to heal and purify. We live in an era of advanced modern medicine, and a cure for many major diseases. There is still only one real cure for sadness and loneliness, and that is love and support, company and kind words. May you find yourself in a position to offer that cure, and find it is easily offered to you in your own time of need. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.