Question: I find it difficult to visit my friend in hospital and so call and email her. Have I done the mitzva of bikur cholim?
Answer: Although the mitzvah to visit the sick, bikur cholim, isn’t written clearly in the Torah, the Behag (Asei 36) and Smak (47) classify it as one of the 613 mitzvos.
The Tur (YD 335) writes that this mitzva includes 3 components: to pray for them, see to their needs and give them encouragement. The Beis Yosef (YD 335) writes that the primary mitzvah is to pray for the patient. According to the Rema (YD 335:4) one who visits a patient without praying for them has not properly fulfilled their obligation.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 1:223) and R' Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak 2:84) write that while one can’t fulfil every component of this mitzva by calling a patient, one who can’t visit them in person still performs a mitzva by calling.
R’ Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher, Bereishis 20) disagrees. Chazal said that we must visit them, and not to try and fulfil our obligation in any other way. Calling or emailing a patient would certainly be a mitzva of chesed, however, and one who can’t visit in person, should use any other means to help them.
The Gemara (Nedarim 39b) writes that visiting the sick aids their recovery. Seemingly, this is something that can only be achieved in person.
יה"ר מלפני אבינו שבשמים שתשלח להם מהרה רפואה שלמה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.