Bikur Cholim over the telephone
“וירא אליו ה’ באלני ממרא והוא יושב פתח האהל כחם היום”
Rashi explains that Hashem came לבקר את החולה – to visit Avrohom who was sick. It was the third day after the milah and Hashem came to see how he was feeling. From here we learn the mitzvah of visiting the sick (Sotah 14a). This week we will discuss whether one can fulfill this mitzvah over the telephone.
The Gemara in Nedarim (39a) says that if Reuvain prohibited Shimon from having any benefit from his property and then Reuvain became sick, Shimon may still enter his house and visit him. Reuvain’s vow did not include this circumstance where by Shimon visiting would give him more life. However, if Reuvain’s son became sick, then Shimon may not enter Reuvain’s house to visit his son, because for the son, the vow is binding in all circumstances. However the Gemara says he should ask others in the market place about the welfare of the son. From this Gemara it would seem that through this, Shimon has fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim.
However there are many aspects of the Mitzvah which the Tur (Yoreh Deah Siman 335) brings down from the Gemara in Nedarim (40a) that pertain only when one is actually in front of the choleh. The Tur writes “ומצוה גדולה היא לבקר, שמתוך כך יבקש עליו רחמים ונמצא כאילו מחיה אותו” – When one visits the sick he will daven for their recovery and it is considered as if he renewed the choleh’s life. “וגם מתוך שרואהו ומעיין בענינו, אם יצטרך לשום דבר משתדל בו להמציאו לו ועושה שיכבדו וירבצו לפניו” – When one visits the sick he will take care of his needs and make sure the room is swept and clean.
The Bais Yosef brings in the name of the Ramban that we learn from here that the purpose of bikur cholim is to clean for him, tend to his needs, and to make sure the choleh feels good about himself in the presence of his friends. His friend should also daven for him. Therefore, someone who visited a choleh but did not daven for him, did not fulfill the mitzvah. From this it would seem that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim over the telephone.
R’Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD1 Siman 223) explains that one can fulfill parts of the mitzvah of bikur cholim over the telephone. However, since there are many parts of the mitzvah which cannot be done over the telephone, he has not fulfilled his complete obligation. This applies to tefillah as well because when someone visits the sick he feels their pain more and davens for their recovery with more intent. Therefore, if one is able to go visit he should not rely on the telephone. Only if the circumstances do not allow him to visit, then he should at least call on the telephone. (The Minchas Yitzchok [vol 2 teshuva 84] as well paskens like Reb Moshe zt”l).
The Tzitz Eliezer ((רמת רחל סימן ח’ says that if the choleh is in the hospital, all his needs are being tended to. As a result, most of the halachos of bikur cholim do not apply. The only halachos that are pertinent are to bring the choleh enjoyment and to daven for him. By asking his relatives about him they will relay the message to him which will bring him joy. Even though the choleh may have more enjoyment if you visited in person, and even though you may daven better if you personally see his situation, since there is no set amount of how much pleasure you must give him, and no set amount of how much you have to daven for him, you have completely fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim over the telephone.
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind