Continuing with the discussion about bikur holim which began on yesterday’s daf, our Gemara presents the teaching of Rav Sheisha brei d’Rav Idi that one should not visit an ill person during the first three hours of the day or the last three hours of the day – de-la leisah da’atei min rahamei – so that he will not be diverted from [praying for] mercy. This is explained by the Gemara as follows: during the first three hours of the day he feels better; the last three hours of the day, the illness becomes stronger.
Generally speaking, body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, with relatively lower temperatures in the morning and the highest temperatures in the evening. These changes become more pronounced when someone is ill, particularly with an infectious disease, when temperatures can become markedly higher at night. Often times this rise in temperature indicates a strengthening of the illness. After a night of rest, however, we often find that the natural resistance of the body strengthens, although as the patient tires during the day, we can anticipate a relapse the following evening. Thus we find that it is not uncommon that during the morning hours the patient feels better and at night he feels worse.
Most of the commentaries explain Rav Shesha brei d’Rav Idi’s rule as stemming from a concern with prayer. During the morning hours when the patient feels better, a visitor may feel that there is no need to pray on the patient’s behalf; during the evening hours when the patient’s condition worsens, the visitor may feel that the ill person is beyond help and thus may not choose to pray. The Rambam, however, suggests that the rule is based on the time that the guest will (or will not) be in the way, since the morning and evening hours are the times that the family will naturally be tending to the patient.