Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who often invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explaing that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have indeed been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice, certainly a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa] of this Gemaraattributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises over all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are also justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Gemara Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145 and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnamity. But could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great Nineteenth Century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man, he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’ it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are actually quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and therefore merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise, that halacha requires one to sing  it daily as if one personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still somehalachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later they were sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter 14). Thus, they are praises that are directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and at the same time they are beautiful praises that reflect on the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite them as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit it placing them closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether they are said as a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world are that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this Ron replied : “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems from your description that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should be,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He had expected to receive an answer that he would not foresee; similar to Yosel’s other brilliant answers. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting hefound the rabbi more than accomodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag in all communities always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from most other members. His input as an “outsider” was happily accepted. And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also to Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.

Halachos of Bikur Cholim

Question #1: “Rabbi,” asked Mr. Greenberg, “My neighbor, Mrs. Friedman is having an operation. Is it appropriate for me to visit her?”

Question #2: Does Dr. Strauss fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim when he makes his hospital rounds?

Question #3: “My sister-in-law is hospitalized for a few days for a minor procedure. I should really visit her, but I just can’t find the time. Is it halachically sufficient for me to call her?”

Parshas VaYeira opens with Hashem visiting Avraham Avinu three days after his Bris Milah. Rashi points out that Hashem was performing bikur cholim, visiting and providing care for the ill. In the same way, by taking care of the ill, we fulfill the mitzvah of emulating Hashem’s ways, in addition to the special mitzvah of bikur cholim (Gemara Sotah 14a). Thus physicians, nurses, or other medical professionals should have in mind before every visit or appointment, that they are performing two mitzvos, one of emulating Hashem, and the other of bikur cholim. Since we rule that mitzvos tzrichos kavvanah, to fulfill a mitzvah requires being cognizant of that fact, any medical professional gains much merit by realizing this every day.

Every community should have an organization devoted to the needs of the sick, and it is a tremendous merit to be involved in organizing and participating in such a wonderful chesed project (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

The Kli Yakar (Bamidbar 16:29) offers an additional reason for fulfilling bikur cholim – to benefit the visitor — because he thereby appreciates the importance of doing teshuvah. And this provides extra merit for the sick person since he caused someone else to do teshuvah, even if it was unintentional.

The Gemara (Nedarim 40a) reports that when one of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples was ill, no one came to check his welfare. Then Rabbi Akiva entered his dwelling, cleaned it and sprinkled water on the floor (to prevent dust from rising), and the student exclaimed, “Rabbi Akiva, you have brought me back to life!” After this experience, Rabbi Akiva taught that someone who visits the ill is considered as if he saved someone’s life!

WHY “BIKUR” CHOLIM?

What does the “Bikur cholim” mean?

It is worth noting that although “bikur” means “visit” in modern Hebrew, the original meaning of “bikur” is not “visit” but “checking.” In other words, the actual mitzvah of bikur cholim is to check which of the sick person’s needs have not been attended to (Toras HaAdam).

There are two main aspects of this mitzvah:

I. Taking care of the physical and emotional needs of ill people.

II. Praying for their recovery (Toras HaAdam, based on Gemara Nedarim 40a).

I. TAKING CARE OF PHYSICAL NEEDS

In addition to raising the sick person’s spirits by showing one’s concern for him or her, the visitor should also ensure that his/her physical, financial, and medical needs are properly cared for, as well as other logistical concerns that may be troubling him/her. Often, well meaning people make the effort to visit the sick, but fail to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly because they fail to take care of the choleh’s needs (Gesher HaChayim).

Always cheer up the choleh (Gesher HaChayim). If you know that you cannot cheer him up, you should not visit him.

Your visit must benefit the choleh. In most circumstances, a visit should be short and not tire out or be uncomfortable for the ill person. Sometimes the sick person wants to rest, but feels obligated to converse with a visitor (Aruch HaShulchan 335:4). Unfortunately, in such cases, visitors think they are performing a mitzvah, while they are actually doing the opposite. It is important to remember that the entire focus of bikur cholim is on the sick person’s needs and not on the visitor’s desire to feel noble or important. I remember my mother a”h having such guests during one of her hospital stays; although she kept hinting that she wanted to rest, they didn’t catch on and stayed put. They thought they were performing a kind deed, while in reality they were harming a sick person who desperately needed to rest.

OVERNIGHT CARE

One of the greatest acts of chesed is to stay overnight with a choleh (Aruch HaShulchan 335:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #4). A similar act of bikur cholim and true chesed is to stay overnight with a hospitalized child to enable parents to get some proper sleep and keep their family’s life in order.

A person can fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim even a hundred times a day (Nedarim 39b). If one frequently pops one’s head into one’s sick child’s bedroom to see how the child is doing, or periodically drops in to visit a shut-in, one fulfills a separate mitzvah each time so long as it does not become burdensome to the choleh. Similarly, a nurse fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim each time she checks on a patient, and – therefore she should have intent to do this for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah. (This applies even if she is paid, because the proscription against being paid to do a mitzvah applies only to the mitzvah’s minimum requirement. Once one does more than this minimum, one can be paid for the extra time one spends. The same certainly applies to someone paid to stay overnight with a sick patient.)

IS THERE AN OPTIMUM TIME OF DAY TO VISIT?

The Gemara states that one should not visit a sick person during the first quarter of the day, since one usually looks healthier in the morning and the visitor may not be motivated to pray on his behalf. One should also not visit a sick person at the end of the day when he looks much sicker and one might give up hope. Therefore, one should visit an ill person during the middle part of the day (see Gemara Nedarim 40a, and Ahavas Chesed 3:3). Rambam offers a different reason for this halacha, explaining that at other times of the day, visitors might interfere with the attendants and medical personnel who are taking care of the choleh (Hilchos Aveil 14:5).

(Why does the Rambam give a different reason than the Gemara? The Kesef Mishneh suggests that the Rambam had a different text of this Gemara.) Thus, the ideal time for visiting an ill person is in the middle of the day, unless he is receiving medical treatment at that time.

Despite the above, the custom is to visit the ill person regardless of the time of the day. Why is this so? The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:8) explains that the Gemara’s visiting times are advisory rather than obligatory. The Gemara is saying that one should visit the ill person at the time most beneficial for his/her care, which is usually the afternoon, either because this does not interfere with medical care or because it is the best time to detect the patient’s medical status. However, this is only advice and can be tempered by other practical concerns.

WHAT IF THE ILL PERSON IS RECEIVING SUBSTANDARD CARE?

In this instance, one should try to upgrade the choleh’s care without agitating him in the process (Gesher HaChayim).

WHOM TO VISIT FIRST

Usually, it is a greater mitzvah to visit a poor choleh than a wealthy one. This is because there is often no one else to care for the poor person’s needs (Sefer Chassidim #361). Additionally, he may need more help because of his lack of finances, and he is more likely to be in financial distress because of his inability to work (Ahavas Chesed 3:3).

If two people need the same amount of care and one of them is a talmid chacham, the talmid chacham should be attended to first (Sefer Chassidim #361). If the talmid chacham is being attended to adequately and the other person is not, one should first take care of the other person (Sefer Chassidim #361).

CROSS-GENDER VISITING

Should a man pay a hospital visit to a female non-relative, or vice versa?

The halacha states that a man may attend to another man who is suffering from intestinal disorder, but not to a woman suffering from such a problem, whereas a woman may attend to either a man or a woman suffering from intestinal disorder (Mesechta Sofrim Chapter 12). This implies that one may attend to the needs of the opposite gender in all other medical situations (Shach, Yoreh Deah 335:9; Birkei Yosef 335:4; Aruch HaShulchan 335:11 and Shu’t Zakan Aharon 2:76).

However, some halachic authorities distinguish between attending to a sick person’s needs and visiting, contending that although a woman may usually provide a man’s nursing needs and vice versa, there is no requirement for a woman to visit an ill man (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, and Zichron Meir pg. 71 ftn 24 quoting Shu’t Vayaan Avrohom, Yoreh Deah #25 and others). Other authorities contend that when one can assume that the woman’s medical needs are provided, a man should not visit her because of tzniyus concerns (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer, Volume 5, Ramat Rachel, #16). Instead, he should inquire about her welfare and pray for her. I suggest asking your Rav for direction in these situations.

According to a famous story of Rav Aryeh Levin, when he was once concerned that a certain widow who had been told not to fast on Yom Kippur would disobey orders, he personally visited her on Yom Kippur and boiled her water for a cup of tea to ensure that she drank. In this way, he fulfilled the mitzvah of bikur cholim on Yom Kippur in a unique way (A Tzadik in Our Time).

II. PRAYING FOR THE ILL

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 335) writes, “It is a great mitzvah to visit the ill since this causes the visitor to pray on the sick person’s behalf which revitalizes him. Furthermore, since the visitor sees the ill person, the visitor checks to see what the ill person needs.” We see that Beis Yosef considers praying for the ill an even greater part of the mitzvah than attending to his needs, since he first mentions praying and then refers to attending to the other needs as “furthermore.”

Someone who visits a sick person without praying for his recovery fails to fulfill all the requirements of the mitzvah (Toras HaAdam; Rama 335:4). Therefore, physicians, nurses, and aides who perform bikur cholim daily should accustom themselves to pray for their sick patients in order to fulfill the complete mitzvah of bikur cholim. A simple method of accomplishing this is to discreetly recite a quick prayer (such as “Hashem, please heal this person among the other ill Jewish people [b’soch she’ar cholei yisrael]”) as one leaves the person’s room. (A doctor in his office can recite the same quick prayer.)

MUST ONE PRAY FOR A SICK PERSON BY NAME?

When praying in a sick person’s presence, one need not mention his name and one may recite the prayer in any language. The Gemara explains that this is because the Shechinah, the Divine presence, rests above the choleh’s head (Gemara Shabbos 12b). However, when the ill person is not present, one should pray specifically in Hebrew and should mention the person’s name (Toras HaAdam; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 335:5). If one cannot pray in Hebrew, one may do so in English or any other language except Aramaic (see Taz 335:4).

[Incidentally, since the Shechinah is in the choleh’s presence, visitors should act in a dignified manner (Gemara Shabbos 12b; Shl”a). This includes both their behavior and their mode of dress.]

Why must one pray in Hebrew when the ill person is not present? Rashi explains that in such a case, when one prays for an individual, angels have to transport the prayer to the Divine presence (the Shechinah) – these angels transport only prayers recited in Hebrew and not those recited in Aramaic (Rashi to Shabbos 12b s.v. d’shechinah). However, when praying in the presence of the sick person one may pray in any language since the Shechinah is nearby and the prayer does not require the angels to transport it on high (Gemara Shabbos 12b).

MAY ONE PRAY IN ENGLISH FOR THE ILL?

This explains the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. What about other languages? Do the angels “transport” prayer recited in a different language?

To answer this question, we must first explore a different issue: Why do angels not transport Aramaic prayers?

The halachic authorities dispute why the angels do not convey prayers recited in Aramaic. Some contend that angels communicate only in Hebrew and, furthermore, only convey a prayer that they understand (Tosafos, Shabbos 12b s.v. She’ayn). According to this approach, the angels convey only Hebrew prayers. However, other authorities contend that the angels do not convey Aramaic prayers because they view it as corrupted Hebrew and not as a real language (Rosh, Berachos 2:2). Similarly, the angels will not convey a prayer recited in slang or in a different undignified way. According to the latter opinion, the angels will convey a prayer recited in any proper language and one may pray in English for an ill person even if he is not present.

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both opinions, but considers the first opinion as the primary approach (Orach Chayim 101:4). However, in Yoreh Deah 335:5, the Shulchan Aruch omits the second opinion completely. The commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch raise this point, and conclude that the Shulchan Aruch felt that praying for an ill person is such a serious matter that one should certainly follow the more stringent approach and pray only in Hebrew when the choleh is not present (Taz, Yoreh Deah 335:4). Therefore, one should not pray for an individual sick person’s needs in any language other than Hebrew. If one is unable to pray in Hebrew however, one may rely on the second opinion and pray in any language other than Aramaic.

DOES ONE FULFILL BIKUR CHOLIM OVER THE TELEPHONE?

To answer this question, let us review the reasons for this mitzvah and see if a telephone call fulfills them. One reason one visits the ill is to see if they have any unfulfilled needs. Although one might discover this over the phone, one cannot ascertain everything without seeing them. The second reason one visits the ill is to motivate the visitor to pray on their behalf. Again, although one may be motivated by a phone call, it is rarely as effective as a visit. Furthermore, although a phone call can cheer up the choleh and make him feel important, a personal visit accomplishes this far more effectively. Therefore, most aspects of this mitzvah require a personal visit. However, in cases where one cannot actually visit the choleh, for example, when a visit is uncomfortable for the patient, or unwanted, one should call (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223; Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 2:128). Some authorities contend that it is better for a man to call a hospitalized or bed-ridden woman who is not a relative since it is difficult for an ill person to maintain the appropriate level of tzniyus (Chelkas Yaakov 3:38:3).

ALWAYS PRAY FOR GOOD HEALTH

A healthy person should daven for continuing good health, because it is far easier to pray that one remain healthy than to pray for a cure after one is already ill. This is because a healthy person remains well so long as no bad judgment is brought against him in the heavenly tribunal, whereas an ill person needs zechuyos to recover. This latter instance is not good for two reasons — first, the choleh may not have sufficient zechuyos, and second, even if he does, he will lose some of his zechuyos in order to get well.

Before taking medicine or undergoing other medical treatment one should recite a short prayer: “May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d, that this treatment will heal, for You are a true Healer” (Magen Avraham 230:6; Mishnah Berurah 230:6, based on Gemara Berachos 60a).

People who fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim are promised tremendous reward in Olam Haba, in addition to many rewards in this world (Gemara Shabbos 127a). Someone who fulfills the mitzvah of bikur cholim properly is considered as if he saved people’s lives and is rewarded by being spared any severe punishment (Gemara Nedarim 40a).