February 14, 2023

Nedarim 40

We are taught by Rav Dimi in today’s daf (Nedarim 40a) that the act of visiting the sick significantly enhances the prayers that one says for the sick person. This is because by being present and by seeing the person who is unwell, one’s heart is stirred even more than it would be when just hearing about their condition – which thereby makes the prayers that one utters for their welfare more heartfelt and more impactful.
Interestingly, this fact is affirmed by a halacha found in Brachot 34a where Rabbi Yaakov says in the name of Rav Chisda that, ‘one who seeks mercy for one’s friend does not need to mention their name’ – which is explained by the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 119:1) to mean that when one is present with the sick person, one need not mention their name when praying for them, whereas when one is not alongside them, one should mention their name.
Considering this point it suggests that – at least during the period of the Talmud (when the incredible modern technologies that we have today were unavailable) – that there are two primary means to connect to someone: when not physically with them you can connect with someone by mentioning their name – at which point you and your prayers are fused with them. And when you are with someone, you connect with a person by seeing them, by acknowledging them, and by offering a pray for their welfare. And why, according to Rav Dimi, is the latter greater than the former? Because while the former involves reference to aspects of a person, the latter involves the recognition of the total person. What I hope we learn from here is how important and valuable it is to visit the sick.
However, it is important to emphasise that the distinction that I have drawn between ‘aspects of a person’ and ‘the recognition of the total person’ isn’t just one that relates to those who are sick. In fact, in almost all aspects of life most of us only know small parts of other people: we know their name, what they do, where they live etc. Yet it is only when we spend time with them – both during their good times and more difficult times – that we come close to getting a sense of their total person. It is at that point where we look beyond names and titles and truly see into the heart and soul of another.
It is easy, especially in the modern age, to think that we know people because we know aspects of their life. But to truly know someone involves seeing them, hearing them, being there for them for good and bad, and caring enough about them that you pray for them and their welfare. Such knowledge is rare, but when found it is crucial to hold onto it with your life. This is because it is so precious that it can literally bring those who are sick back to life. And what do we call this precious and rare commodity? In one word: Love.
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