Bikkur Cholim – Understanding the Obligation


There appears to be three major halachic approaches to the important Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim, and among them Maran Rav Chaim Kanievsky zatzal’s view.

There is a fascinating Rambam in Hilchos Avel (14:1).  It is both fascinating and perhaps slightly confusing at the same time.  He writes that the Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim is m’divreihem [i.e. of Rabbinic origin] and later writes that they are a fulfillment of v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha – a Torah Mitzvah.  So is there an obligation from the Torah or is there not?  How is this apparent contradiction explained?

It seems that there are at least three different explanations.

Rav Dov Beirish Gottlieb (1739- 1795) in his Yad haKetana (Hichos Dayos 8:8) writes that they are a fulfillment of both a Torah Mitzvah and a Rabbinic Mitzvah in that we would never have known that this was the Torah Mitzvah until the Rabbis revealed it to us.

The Maharatz Chayes (1805-1855) is of the opinion that this Mitzvah, according to the Rambam, is derabanan in origin that emerges from a general principle found in the Torah (See Kol Kisvei Siman 70).

The opinion of Moreinu haRav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l (1928-2022) in his Derech Emunah (Hilchos Terumah 3:20 BH “sh’ne’emar and orchos yosher note 3) writes that according to Torah law – it is a voluntary Mitzvah, but according to Rabbinic law it is a fully obligatory one.  In other words, if one is unable to perform the Mitzvah on account of logistical difficulties – one would have been exempt on a Torah level – but not on a Rabbinic level.  If someone else is tending to it – there is an exemption – but otherwise, there isn’t an exemption.

This also seems to be the view of the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Betzalel Zolti zt”l (1920-1982), (See Mishnas Yaavetz YD #37).  The repercussions of this third view are extraordinary.  According to this third view – we must make every effort that we can to visit and perform the Bikkur Cholim.