June 19, 2020

Shabbat 12


Today’s daf (Shabbat 12a) addresses the question of whether one should go to console mourners (Nichum Aveilim) or visit the sick (Bikur Cholim) on Shabbat.

According to Beit Shammai we should not console mourners or visit the sick on Shabbat, and though the Gemara does not offer an explicit rationale for his position, Rashi suggests that this is because someone who consoles the mourner feels anguish when they are with them which should be avoided on Shabbat.

Beit Hillel, however, disagrees, and he permits the consoling of mourners and the visting of the sick on Shabbat. As the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 287:1) explains, this is because such acts of kindness can actually serve to reduce the anguish felt by mourners or by the sick.

Still, it is of significance that Rav Chanina remarks (Shabbat 12b) that ‘it was with difficulty that the Rabbis permitted the consoling of mourners and the visiting of the sick on Shabbat’. As the Mishna Berura notes (OC 287:1), this is because there was a fear that, with such permission, people might avoid going to console mourners or going to visit the sick in the weekday when they have less time, and instead only do so on Shabbat.

From here we learn two important principles. Firstly, by consoling mourners and visiting the sick we can reduce the anguish they are feeling. And secondly, we should not wait until we have free time to perform such essential acts of kidness.

Signficantly, numerous poskim have discussed whether one fulfils the duty of visiting the sick or consoling mourners when speaking to them by telephone (see for example Iggrot Moshe YD 1:223; Yechave Da’at 3:83), and though there is merit in doing so, almost all authorities stress the greater value of doing so in person. However, in an instance where a physical visit might harm the mourner or the sick such as nowadays where the visitor could be a possible Corona virus carrier, undoubtedly the greater mitzvah is to ‘virtually’ visit them, and by doing do, this strikes the balance between bringing them comfort, and keeping them from danger.

Still, we should not forget that a core feature of visiting the sick is praying for them. And thus, whether contact is made in person or virtually, it is essential that we take time and invest energy to pray for their healing.

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