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The gemara in Elu Metzios (Bava Metzia 30b) says:

אמר מר (אשר) ילכו - זה ביקור חולים. היינו גמילות חסדים! לא נצרכה אלא לבן גילו ,דאמר מר בן גילו נוטל אחד מששים בחליו ,ואפי' הכי מבעי ליה למיזל לגביה

My chavrusa and I found that interesting because until we read this gemara, we had thought that the drasha on visiting the sick was that you take away 1/60 of the sick person's illness. Turns out that this is not only a double-edged sword (i.e. the 1/60 illness doesn't just go away, but sticks to the visitor instead!) but also this only applies to someone of the same mazal ("ben gilo") as the choleh!

So we checked out the halacha in the Rambam. Here's what he has to say (Hilchos Avel 14:6):

וכל המבקר את החולה, כאילו נטל חלק מחולייו, והקל מעליו

Hello? What happened to "ben gilo"? Is this Rambam's rationalist way of seeing things, that he summarily changed the pshat from the gemara? The Shulchan Aruch likewise rules like the Rambam, that this healing effect of bikkur cholim applies to everyone. And I haven't found anyone (though my research has been far from exhaustive) who disagrees, or mentions a word about "ben gilo" in the halacha!

So how did this concept from the gemara get struck from the record when it came to halacha?

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but, but..... are you guys serious? i mean, applying math to justify visiting a sick person? it's absurd! –  johny why May 11 '11 at 17:27
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@johny why - I don't think the discussion is one of justification for the act of visiting, but of the (metaphysical) results of such a visit, in discrete terms. Esoteric though it may be, this type of calculation should ideally remain separate from the person's motivation to visit. –  WAF May 11 '11 at 19:00
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I think it's actually the other way around: the Talmud presents a proof text that it's a mitzva to visit sick people. Hang on, someone asks, isn't this just part of the general mitzva to be kind to people? Why do we have a separate duty to visit them when they're sick? Ah, comes the answer, because it can actually be dangerous to visit sick people (if you are mystically linked to them by being a "ben gilu"). None the less, even though it's potentially dangerous, it's still a mitzva. –  Joe in Australia May 11 '11 at 23:31
    
@Joe in Australia - Ah, you make a good point. Thanks for clarifying. –  WAF May 12 '11 at 1:38
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

You're not mistaken: in fact the Tur and Shulkhan Arukh (335:2) say that only a בן גילו has the ability to take some of the sickness with him. This difficulty was recognised by the Drisha on Ramba"m and he stresses Ramba"m's wording: כאילו נטל חלק מחולייו - it is as if he takes part of the illness. However, there's a note in my Ramba"m that directed me to Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 34:1.

R' Huna says: [Tehilim 41:2] talks about someone who visits an invalid. As R' Huna says, everyone who visits a sick person removes one sixtieth of the invalid's illness. They challenged R' Huna : if so, why not have sixty people visit the invalid, then he can go shopping with them (i.e., then the invalid will be well again)? [R' Huna] replied, sixty - but only if they love him as they love themselves. Still, it will make him feel better.

So it seems to me that Ramba"m was aware that the Gemara restricts the healing power of visitors to a בן גילו, but he chose to emphasise the fact that all visitors make the invalid feel better, and he followed R' Huna in the Midrash by tying it to the mystical idea of the בן גילו.

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Excellent answer, thank you! –  Shaul May 11 '11 at 16:16
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The main Gemara is Nedarim 39b:

אמר רבי אחא בר חנינא כל המבקר חולה נוטל אחד מששים בצערו אמרי ליה אם כן ליעלון שיתין ולוקמוה אמר ליה כעישורייתא דבי רבי ובבן גילו

Said Rabbi Acha Bar Chanina: anyone who visits the sick takes away 1/60th of their pain. [The rabbis] responded to him: "if so, couldn't we just bring sixty people in, and boom he'd get better"? He replied: each only takes 1/60th of the existing, not original pain [so 60 people would leave him with (59/60)^60 = 36% of his original pain]; and this only works if the visitor is ben gilo, someone with their karma properly attuned (whatever that means).

My strong suspicion here, off the top of my head; is there are two things going on here. Firstly, the spirit of Rav Acha's statement stands -- each visitor helps somewhat; it's that spirit that the Rambam conveys. The Gemara had challenged if this was an absolute, sure-fire cure mechanism, to which Rav Acha attached some significant limitations.

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Yes, I did see the gemara in Nedarim, but it only adds to the kashya - once again, there's the "ben gilo" in the gemara that failed to make it into halacha... –  Shaul May 11 '11 at 13:44
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