I have just returned from a clergy visit at a local hospital. Since I have retired from the full-time pulpit rabbinate, such visits have been greatly reduced. As I approached the hospital lobby it suddenly dawned on me how much I had missed this mitzvah. While a fully active rabbi, not a week would go by without several hospital visits. I always considered this component central to my pastoral duties as rabbi. Today, I realized how important it was not only to the patient but to me.
To many , hospitals are scary places, places of worry, fear, vulnerability and pain. Other than the healthy birth of babies, we try our utmost to avoid them. Today I saw the hospital in a different light, as a place of hope and healing, of incredible care and the giving of oneself, and I would assert confidently, God's dwelling place..
As I left the patient's room, I was overcome by an all embracing sense of gratefulness, quietly saying "thank you" to the world and the community for the availability of medical advancement, technology and the expansive network of caring human beings.
Rather than being dejected at the prevalence of so much sickness and pain, somehow I was able to touch feelings of gratefulness.
I heard my name being called. It was an elderly member of the synagogue I serve on a part time basis. He wore the jacket of a volunteer. I knew of his outstanding volunteer efforts on behalf of the synagogue, single-handedly managing all ritual affairs for all services, three time daily, seven days a week. Now he was working as a volunteer in this hospital. He informed me that he had been doing this for fifteen years, between eight to ten hours a week. Matter-of-factly, he added: " It's wonderful for the hospital, for the patient and most of all for me." A few moments later I learned that he had given this hospital over nine thousand hours of his free time. It was as if he had taken off over a full year of his life and handed it over to the hospital as a gift .
I commented: " I believe that what you do is wonderful for the Ribbono Shel Olam-the Master of the World, as well." He rushed off to continue to serve, not wanting to waste his precious time of giving in idle words of perfunctory conversation.
I returned home inspired.Not only had this visit proven to be one of fulfilling a mitzvah, a sacred deed, entailing the giving of time , effort and concern, but more significantly I discovered that I had been given a most important gift, the gift of gratefulness for performing this act of compassion.
I thank You, God, for Your gift of Mitzvoth.