Gershon Hepner

Treating a Person as a Lulav

Some students, who were visiting Rav Yitzhaq Hutner when he was quite sick,

said “We’re glad that you have made us biqur holim mitzvadik.”

He replied, quite shaken, “Please don’t treat me as if I were a lulav.”

It’s wrong to treat as mitzvah-targets any people whom you love.

Doing this is like mistaking your beloved partner for a hat,

or Oliver for Jonathan, Rav Sacks whom as a Lord the Queen begat.

Biqur holim, visiting the sick, is a huge mitzvah, providing the spiritual merit that comes from the performance of any of the Torah’s 613 commandments.

Rav Yitzhaq Hutner, (1906-1980) was the long-time dean of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York. He was known widely by the name of his magnum opus, as the Pahad Yitzhaq, Isaac’s Fear, as in Gen. 31:51. His plane was hijacked in September 1970 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorists at Dawson’s Field Airstrip, Jordan, a trauma which he survived.

The rhyming couplet with which this poem concludes alludes to two Jews called Sacks. The first is Oliver Sacks, a celebrated neurologist who was the prolific author not only of “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales”, but of an introduction to the book written by my sister Esther Goshen-Gottstein, describing the recovery from a coma and brain damage by her distinguished husband Moshe. The other Sacks is Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks. They were both great people who, by inspiring many of my poems, performed a mitzvah the magnitude of which I compare to biqur holim, while I hope my readers will not consider this comparison to be a sick joke.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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