While growing up, my young children developed a wonderful relationship with their Bubbe (grandmother). They visited her often, playing, listening to her stories and eating her delicious treats. On those rare occasions when she was not feeling well, they still wanted to see her to make sure she was all right. I would make soup, they would make get-well cards and we would pay a short visit to our sick Bubbe. As the kids grew older, we would visit their friends if they had suffered an accident or illness. In those situations, the first priority was ensuring that everyone’s health was protected. Then soup, handmade cards and a short visit quickly ensued.
My children got a healthy dose of the mitzvah (good deed) of Bikkur Cholim (visiting the sick) along with their childhood vaccinations. As they have matured, so has their Bubbe, most of their relatives and many of their friends. Now a few of their “visits to the sick” involve trips to the hospital. I am grateful that I provided them with those early experiences so they know just what to do: first protect your own health, then a little food, a nice card and a short visit—perfect!
The following books can be very helpful in learning about the mitzvah of visiting the sick:
“A Sick Day for Amos McGee” by Philip C. Stead. Ages 3-6. In this exquisite Caldecott Award-winning book, Amos McGee, a fabulous zookeeper, arrives on time every day to take care of all of the wonderful animals. He makes sure to drop by his particular friends to make sure they receive some special attention. One morning, however, he wakes up sick and does not come to work. That day Amos receives some special attention of his own.
- Why do you think Amos McGee had some good friends (special animals) he made sure to visit every day?
- How do you think the animals felt when Amos McGee was not at work one day?
- How do you think Amos McGee felt when he saw that the animals had visited him at home?
- Name some friends that you make sure you see or talk to every day. What would you do if you found out they were sick today?
“The Princess of Borscht” by Leda Schubert. Ages 5-8. Ruthie’s grandma is in the hospital. When Ruthie goes to visit, Grandma tells her that the hospital food is terrible. Ruthie hears that if her grandmother doesn’t get a bowl of borscht by 5 p.m. she is going to die of starvation! Ruthie has never made borscht, so she seeks out the neighbors’ help. The result is hilarious (think “Top Chef” meets Nickelodeon!).
- How do you think Ruthie felt when she saw her grandma in bed in the hospital?
- Why did Ruthie take on the project of making borscht for her grandma?
- Why did all the neighbors feel their borscht was better than anyone else’s?
- How do you think Grandma felt as she was eating the borscht she knew Ruthie made for her?
“Say Hello, Lily” by Deborah Lakritz. Ages 5-8. Lily wants to go with her mom to visit her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Rosenbaum, who has just moved into Shalom House, the local nursing home. When Lily walks into the lobby, however, she is overwhelmed by the number of new faces who all want to get to know her at the same time. She suddenly turns very shy. But it doesn’t take too many visits before she learns everyone’s names and stories. Soon she has a surprise for all her new friends.
- At first Lily is very eager to join her mother for her day at Shalom House. Why does she suddenly change when she gets there?
- A couple of Shalom House residents tell Lily’s mom: “Be patient. She’ll be ready when she’s ready.” What do you think they mean by this?
- Why do you think Lily decided to have her birthday party at Shalom House with all the residents?
- How do you think the residents of Shalom House felt when they received Lily’s invitation to her birthday party?
There are so many opportunities to practice the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim (visiting the sick). If, thankfully, you have no family or friends to visit, look for a nearby nursing home or elder-care facility where you can certainly change a person’s day just by dropping in to say hello. For a list of more books on this topic, please visit my website at forwordsbooks.com.