The Power of Bikur Cholim

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

In Parshas Korach, Moshe Rabbeinu announced that the events that were about to unfold would establish clearly whether or not Korach was right in his challenge. “Through this shall you know that Hashem has sent me to perform all these acts, for it was not from my heart. If these die like the death of all men, and ‘pekudas kol ha’adam yepakeid aleihem,’ then it is not Hashem Who has sent me” (16:28-29). What is the meaning of the phrase “pekudas kol ha’adam yepakeid aleihem”? The simple meaning is “the destiny of all men is visited upon them.” However, the Gemara in Nedarim (39b) says that from this pasuk there is a hint to bikur cholim. Rashi explains the hint is from these very same words. “If these die like the death of all men, and are visited with normal bikur cholim visits, then it is not Hashem Who sent me.” Why would Moshe Rabbeinu specifically mention bikur cholim at this point? The Kli Yakar writes that the mitzvah of bikur cholim is not only beneficial for the sick patient. Rather, the visitor, realizing how precarious the gift of life is, will treat his own gift more seriously. The Kli Yakar compares this to Shlomo HaMelech’s dictum of “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting.” (Koheles 7:2) The deep soul searching that should take place after visiting a house of a mourner can lead to lasting changes in one’s life.

The Kli Yakar argues that this same introspection should take place after visiting the home of someone who is grievously ill. This can be a tremendous source of merit for the choleh who brought about this contemplation. Therefore, the Kli Yakar explains that Moshe Rabbeinu was saying that if these men (Korach and his followers) merit having the mitzvah of bikur cholim performed because of them, and consequently cause people to treat life more seriously, then they must be righteous. Why would this indicate that they are righteous? Hashem brings about merit through righteous people. So, if Hashem allowed Korach and his followers to become deathly ill and generate many bikur cholim visits, they must be righteous. However, this is not what happened. Korach and his followers died in a miraculous fashion, and no one performed the mitzvah of bikur cholim on their account. Still, the Kli Yakar challenges his own explanation by raising an apparent question.

Ultimately, Korach and his followers were miraculously swallowed up alive. Wouldn’t that miraculous event cause the B’nei Yisrael who witnessed it to treat life more seriously? Why did Moshe Rabbeinu imply that only bikur cholim can have this effect? The Kli Yakar explains that when a person visits someone who is ill, he reasons that the same malady may affect him. However, when a one-time miraculous event occurs, no one contemplates that the same destiny might be waiting for him. He assumes it will never be repeated. There may be some inspiration from witnessing an open miracle, but it can be temporary and fleeting. However, a person is well aware that he is liable to become sick at any time. Therefore, after bikur cholim, he will perform some soul-searching that can result in permanent changes. The Kli Yakar is teaching us a profound lesson. People may sometimes say, “If I were to witness an open miracle, then I would certainly strive to be a tzaddik. What can I do? I live in a generation that no longer merits open miracles.” Yet, from Moshe Rabbeinu’s words, we can learn that the soul-searching inspiration that comes from contemplating an everyday occurrence can be more potent than witnessing an open miracle.

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@

Share this article: