Thursday, February 16, 2017

Gratitude - Bikkur Cholim

ברוך ה' אשר הציל אתכם

Blessed is Hashem Who has rescued you (18:10) 

The Talmud Sanhedrin 94a makes a striking statement: “It was taught in the name of Rabbi Papyas, it is a shame for Moshe and the 600,000 Jews that they had never uttered Baruch (Hashem) until Yisro came and said, ‘Baruch Hashem asher hitzil eschem.’” 

This is a strong statement which begs elucidation. Clearly, Klal Yisroel had praised Hashem when they sang the Shirah amid great joy, praising Hashem for the spectacular miracles and wonders which He had wrought. Although they did not say the words “Baruch Hashem.” Does that warrant that their inaction be termed a shame? In other words, Klal Yisroel’s gratitude in comparison to that of Yisro was shameful! How are we to understand this? Horav Mordechai Zuckerman, ZT”L, derives an important lesson concerning appreciation and gratitude from Chazal. Veritably, Klal Yisroel sang Shirah, praising Hashem’s lofty power, His outstanding miracles and His absolute control over all of the forces of nature. They forgot one thing: the personal relationship of those miracles to them. They never thanked Hashem for their personal salvation. Sure, they had offered boundless praise but what about the simple fact that they were alive and well? This is the shame. They praised Hashem’s miracles but forgot to say, “Thank you Hashem for saving me!” Thus, Chazal use a cogent statement to underscore that each and every one of us must constantly introspect concerning what we owe Hashem. We regularly benefit from His favour; yet, we fail to acknowledge our gratitude. We either do not think or we are so accustomed to taking that we have lost track of Who is the Giver. 

L’sitcha Elyon cites a letter penned by Horav Chaim Stein, ZT”L, (who was a close friend of Rav Mordechai Zuckerman), and addressed to his son, Rav Sholom Rafael Yehuda, ZT”L, who suffered greatly for years until his untimely passing at a young age. The Rosh Yeshiva lovingly tells him that man is obliged to bless Hashem for every chesed – kindness, which he receives from Him. He must sense this even during those difficult periods when he feels that he is in dire need and he opens his heart to Hashem in prayer. Even then, when he pleads amid pain and deprivation, he must not lose sight of all of the good that Hashem has done for him. All too often we remember the source of our good fortune as long as we experience the good. What about when the tables are reversed and we are no longer on the receiving end of Hashem’s kindness? What if the money stops flowing, the accolades are non-existent and the pain that was supposed to stop; does not? It is easy to feel grateful when life is good but when pain sets in, when disaster strikes, we suddenly renege our responsibility to those from whom we have benefited. This is not only a grave error; it is a deficiency in one’s understanding of the middah – character trait of hakoras hatov – gratitude. During difficult times, not only will gratitude be helpful, it is essential toward maintaining one’s level of human decency. In fact, it is precisely during times of crisis that we have most to gain from a grateful perspective on life. In the face of brokenness, gratitude gives us strength. In the face of despair, gratitude imbues us with hope. Indeed, gratitude grants us the ability to cope with difficult situations and hard times. We should really distinguish between feeling grateful and being grateful. The average person does not have total control over his emotions. Thus, it is difficult for us to will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed or happy. Feelings are emotions which are dependent on the way we view life, the world around us and the situation in which we find ourselves. They are: an expression of what we perceive; thoughts concerning the way we are, as opposed to the way we want to be. Therefore, since feelings are often not within our ability to control, we might not feel grateful even though we know that we should. Being grateful is an entirely different story. Acting appropriately, such as being grateful and acting with gratitude, reflects a prevailing attitude; it is a choice that is enduring and should be relatively immune to the gains and losses that are part of our lives. When disaster strikes, a grateful attitude can provide a perspective by which we view life in its entire context. In other words, things may not be going in our favor now but that can change. It was not always this way, so it is quite possible that it will change and become good once again. Acting in a grateful manner allows us to grow, to transcend the present crisis, to look toward the future with hope. Furthermore, by being grateful we will achieve a level in which we will feel grateful.

"והודעת להם את הדרך ילכו בה"
 And you shall make known to them the path in which they should go and the deeds that they should do. (18:20)

“The path in which they should go; they should go,” is a reference to visiting the sick. By virtue of simply “going” to visit someone who is ill, even if he does nothing, the individual has already fulfilled the mitzvah. What is it about simply visiting that provides mitzvah fulfilment? Obviously, the optimum mitzvah is spending time, talking. Calming the patient; encouraging and engendering hope is what the patient needs but the mitzvah at its basic is fulfilled merely with a visit. Perhaps by understanding the immediate consequences of illness we can better comprehend why visitation in its basic form is a mitzvah. Illness punctures our self-established defences which conceal the fact that: we are vulnerable to fear; we are really weak and powerless and above all, we are alone. One who is a prisoner to his hospital bed is a victim of profound loneliness. He has time to think and the thoughts that course through his mind are often far from positive. People may claim that they need no one but no one wants to be alone. Everyone seeks a connection with someone. No Jew is ever alone, he is a member of a community, a shul, a school or a chaburah – a group. When he is alone in the hospital and all of his friends are out in the world 
living their lives, talking about their future plans the patient feels terribly alone. People must make the patient feel that others still care about him. Out of sight out of mind is sadly a reality. Ask anyone who has been a patient alone in a hospital. Bikur Cholim means visiting the sick. When one enters the room of a sick person, he is conveying a message: “You still matter. You are still connected to your friends. No one has forgotten about you.” By helping him to conquer his loneliness, we are fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim. Bikur Cholim is an act of chesed and as such, demands that the benefactor identify with the beneficiary. In the case of Bikur Cholim, this means that we must understand as best as possible the meaning of loneliness. How does it feel to be all alone? Some of us have Baruch Hashem never experienced that feeling; thus, fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim takes on a new challenge. I must convey to the sick person that I know what you are going through and I feel your loneliness. In that way, the patient will not feel that “they are just visiting me to ease their conscience. They do not know what I am going through. They are clueless concerning my loneliness.” If we can psyche ourselves up to understanding the meaning of being a prisoner in a hospital bed, alone at night and most of the day, with no one to share the patient’s personal emotions, then we can properly fulfil the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim.