Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayechi) A Powerful Mitzvah!

Our forefather Yaacov became ill, and sensing his death drawing near, called for his son Yosef, the Viceroy of Egypt, and asked him to swear and guarantee to him that he would be buried in the Cave of Machpaila in Israel. Yosef swore, assuring his father that the matter would be taken care of. The Torah then relates that Yaacov bowed at the head of his bed.

Rashi explains that Yaacov turned and bowed towards the Shechina – G-d’s Presence – which was at the head of his bed. From this incident our Sages teach us that the Holy Presence of G-d rests at the head of the bed of one who is sick.

Because of this, the Halacha – law – indicates that a visitor or an attendant to the sick should not sit at the head of the bed, for it is disrespectful to the Shechina – the Holy Presence of G-d.

In addition, since the Holy Presence of G-d is in attendance with one who is sick, when one prays in the same room, he need not mention the sick person’s name and he may pray in any language – for G-d is right there!

In an earlier incident, the Torah relates that while our forefather Avraham was recuperating from his circumcision, Avraham was distraught because he had no visitors. G-d therefore sent three angels disguised as guests.

The Torah never uses an extra letter or word, yet in the verse describing that Avraham saw the angels, it states the word, ‘and he saw’ twice. Our great commentator, Rashi, asks what was the purpose of this redundancy.

The great Chasam Sofer o.b.m. points to a Talmudic passage that states that the Holy Presence of G-d can only rest upon a person when he is happy and in a joyful mood, but not when he is sad or depressed. (For this reason G-d did not communicate with Yaacov throughout the 22 years he mourned over the loss of his son Yosef.)

Here too, Avraham was in pain and his spirits were down because he did not have guests to entertain – as the Torah states Avraham sat outside his tent in the sweltering heat to see if he might catch a glimpse of a passerby.

Explains the Chasam Sofer, the first time the verse states, ‘and he saw,’ refers to when Avraham saw the angels who appeared as people coming his way. At that point, he became elated and joyful bringing him to a state where he merited then ‘seeing’ the Holy Presence of G-d that accompanied the Mitzvah!

My uncle Rabbi Moshe Saks of Jerusalem asks, “When one is ill, he is worried, uncomfortable, and his feelings are down. How does the Holy Presence of G-d rest at the head of someone who is not in a joyful state?”

He answers this question teaching us something beautiful, rewarding and transforming that takes place when one performs the Mitzvah of visiting the sick. When a person visits the sick he uplifts and boosts his spirits and thereby distracts him from his pain and worries. The bit of joy that he experiences elevates him to the level that the Holy Presence of G-d can enter and rest at his head. Once the Shechina is close by, the sick person can be blessed with a Refuah Shelaima – a complete recovery!

This is the awesome power invested in the Mitzvah of visiting the sick!

When praying on behalf of one who is ill, the custom is to mention his/her name and the name of their mother. Zohar – our Kaballah – derives this from King David who mentioned his mother while beseeched G-d for salvation. A mother is a certainty in regards to one’s origin, and additionally the mention of a loving mother stirs up a special measure of mercy on High.

In Synagogue, when the Torah is read, it is customary to recite a Mi Shebairach, a prayer of blessing for the sick. This is because while the Torah is out there is a special dosage of mercy which is advantageous for healing.

Today is the public fast day of Asarah B’Teves – the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Teves. The fast commemorates the day when Nevuchadnetzar the King of Babylon began a siege on the city of Jerusalem. This siege lasted for 18 months. Eventually, the Babylonians breached the walls and continued on to destroy the first Temple. The fast begins at daybreak, 6:17 a.m. and ends at nightfall, 5:29 p.m.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks