One of the most meaningful tasks as a rabbi involves not doing much more than showing up and listening.
Even before COVID times, much more of my work time was spent on screens than I would have imagined – researching and writing sermons, preparing for classes, keeping up with email, editing and posting videos and, yes, composing articles and blog posts just like this! As I came to accept this as the new way of the world, I began to appreciate even more those times I could get out of the office and made a difference face to face. Some of the most important of those moments have happened when someone was ill, or even dying.
Visiting congregants in the hospital moves me in many ways. Sometimes they are on the mend and I get to see them get better, from hospital bed to walking to going home to coming back to Kol Hadash. Sometimes they are on the decline and I am there to comfort them and their families through the process and its ups and downs. Sometimes they are facing a shock – stroke or accident or serious diagnosis – and there is little I can do other than listen and offer perspective. But showing up and listening and caring actually mean a great deal.
As a Humanistic rabbi, I do not pray for healing; I would rather direct my words and my presence towards those who need them, towards people who are sick and those caring for them. There is clear evidence that positive attitude and feeling supported can improve health outcomes, and even terminal patients deserve dignity and support and the opportunity to talk and be heard. Sometimes there is little I can say or do, but being there and listening makes a real difference.
The traditional Jewish value of bikkur kholim, visiting the sick, is one that I cherish and celebrate and live when I can. When members of my congregational family, and their families, need pastoral support through difficult times, I am honored to to be invited to help in this way. After all, it helps me too: to feel trusted and useful, to see more of the human experience, to provide uplift and inspiration, to make even a small difference in the life of another. And you don’t need rabbinic training to do that! Make a call, send a card, write a text and let someone you care about know that they matter. Helping others helps us.