Yesterday I left off with the question of the shita mekubetzet: why is it that by hashavas aveida there is a ptur of ‘zakein v’aino l’fi kevodo’, i.e. the mitzvah is pre-empted by the kavod habriyos concern of an elderly person not debasing him/herself, yet by bikur cholim we find that the mitzvah obligates even a gadol visiting someone beneath him? If one adopts the gemara in sota 14 as the source for bikur cholim, placing it in the context of ‘v’halachta b’derachav’, the obligation to imitate Hashem’s actions, the question is resolved. No one can be greater than Hashem, yet we see that Hashem put aside his kavod and came to visit Avraham after his bris. The assumption of this answer is that v’halachta b’derachav’ is not only the source of the obligation of bikur cholim, but teaches its parameters as well. However, if the source of bikur cholim is as extension of ‘v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha’ (as the Rambam Aveil 14:2 writes), then how does one answer the question? Perhaps one can distinguish between the relative value of an object viz. a viz. a person’s honor and the relative value of one human being vs. another person’s honor. I was thinking one could sharpen this idea using a little lomdus: the Torah does not obligate performing hashavas aveida on every stray object encountered. For example, if the object has been purposely placed in a location (hinuach), that is not considered an aveida that needs returning. Perhaps the ‘ptur of zakein v’aino l’fi kevodo’is not a ptur on the gavra, but a statement that an object which causes a sacrifice of kavod to return is not a cheftza which is mechayeiv hashavas aveida. But by bikur cholim, there are no dinim as to the definition of a choleh, so the ptur cannot apply.
One other note on the source for bikur cholim: the gemara in Nedarim 39 used the phrase ‘remez l’bikur cholim’, presenting the pasuk as a ‘hint’ to the idea. The Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos shoresh 3 writes with respect to stealing a kli shareis (‘koneiv es hakisva’) that the term remez indicates something is not implicit in the pasuk itself and is an asmachta b’alma. The Ramban (p. 70 in standard edition) compiles a long list of places where the term ‘remez’ is used to refer to a din d’oraysa. (Those who have learned Makkos may recall the line on the first daf ‘remez l’eidim zomimin min hatorah…’). As noted yesterday, the Rambam holds that the specific mitzvah of bikur cholim is a derabbanan institution as a means to achieve a kiyum d’oraysa of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha (see Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mari vol I p. 57).
I recall hearing from R’ Y. Sacks (I think in the name of the Rav) that the parameters of chessed are not taught from a text, but are learned and inculcated by observing role models of proper behavior. We derive the idea of bikur cholim not from derashos or pesukim, but from the act of Hashem himself in visiting Avraham Avinu. It is our behavior more than our words which will impress the lesson of chessed upon our children and others.