A Spiritual Approach
Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.
– Exodus 3:5
Visiting people with mental illness is entering sacred ground, as you are going into a place of great vulnerability. This pamphlet will help you walk that path by moving you through your own apprehensions, and by providing resources and tips for a successful visit. You do not need special skills or experience to visit people with mental illness; you just need your innate human kindness, empathy, humor, curiosity, and common sense.
Bikkur Holim (visiting the sick) is a Lit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." (sacred obligation) that is central to Jewish tradition, and applies to all forms of illness, whether physical or mental. Visiting those who are ill is a core part of every religious tradition. It touches on such spiritual issues as offering compassion, caring for the holiness of our bodies and minds, confronting mortality, and living out our communal values during hard times. Throughout our lives, we will be called upon to offer caring visits to those who are sick, and to receive the benefits of this mitzvah when we ourselves are ill.
One in four people will be impacted by mental illness during their lifetime, yet silence and stigma surround mental illness. Stigma and silence breed shame. This means that caring visits play a particularly important role: not only are they fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikkur Holim, they also dispel stigma, break down isolation, and restore compassion and wholeness to our communities.
Before you visit someone with mental illness, you may feel both curious and anxious. You can use these emotional cues as powerful spiritual tools. Instead of trying to overcome your feelings of curiosity and apprehension, let these feelings guide you. Curiosity and fear are both natural human emotions, and Judaism embraces them fully. We are taught repeatedly in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) to have yirah (awe or fear) for holy and powerful experiences, and to seek chochma (wisdom or knowledge) about new and challenging experiences.
The complete pamphlet may be downloaded below. Copyright © 2013,2015 by Union of Reform Judaism and the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, Rabbis Elliot Kukla and Eric Weiss, all rights reserved.