IV. In Time Of Illness
Visiting the sick
One of the acts that Jewish tradition declares to be both an obligation and a deed whose reward is immeasurable is bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. Those with a life-threatening illness have a special need and desire for the support of loved ones and friends. A smile, a kindly touch, a listening ear, caring words and one’s physical presence can ease suffering and bring peace. The Temple office or one of the clergy should be informed of the serious illness of a member of the congregation.
Prayers in time of illness
People who are ill may wish to recite special prayers, and others may wish to do so on their behalf. There are many appropriate prayers, some of which are found in On the Doorposts of Your House. At such times, recitation of the Shema or the 23rd Psalm can be particularly comforting. There is no particular prayer that is called for. The words of one’s own heart directed to God are often the most beautiful and appropriate of all.
Vidui / Confessional Prayer
A long-standing practice of Judaism, though one that has largely fallen into disuse, is a confessional prayer called vidui, recited by or for one who is critically ill, that concludes with the Shema. That is the prayer’s most significant portion. For centuries, Jews have wanted these to be their last words. Those present when death is imminent may help the dying person say these hallowed words or recite them on his or her behalf.
The purpose of the prayer is to enable the dying to reconcile themselves with God by acknowledging and asking forgiveness for past failings. A form of the prayer can be found in On the Doorposts of Your House. The opportunity should also be taken, if at all possible, to turn to family members and friends with words of forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation.
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