Halacha Date: 18 Shevat 5781 January 31 2021
Question: When praying for the speedy recovery of someone ill, should the individual’s name be mentioned in the prayer or not? Likewise, when the ill person’s name is mentioned, should his mother’s or father’s name be mentioned as well? What is the Halacha regarding reciting a Hashkava (memorial prayer for the deceased)?
Answer: Regarding the question about whether or not the name of the ill individual should be mentioned at all, the Torah states that when Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for Hashem to heal his sister, Miriam, from her leprosy, he did not mention her name, as the Torah states, “And Moshe cried out to Hashem saying, ‘Please Hashem, heal her, I beseech you.’” The Poskim explain that when one is praying in the presence of the individual one is praying for (meaning in the same room), one should not mention the individual’s name. However, when one is praying for the individual while not in his presence, one should mention the individual’s name.
This that we have written that when praying in the presence of the individual, one need not mention his name, this does not mean that if one wishes one may still mention the name and this is also fine, for it is actually better not to mention an ill individual’s name when praying for him and thus, when praying in the presence of the individual, one should specifically not mention his name in the prayer. The great Chatam Sofer explains the reason for this based on the words of the Mekubalim is that when one’s name is mentioned, heavenly judgment is aroused upon that person and mentioning the name may cause some harm. However, when praying in the person’s presence without mentioning his name, the prayer will be completely beneficial. The Sefer Iyun Yaakov writes likewise that sometime, an individual’s name is what causes the illness and therefore, when praying in the individual’s presence, his name should not be mentioned. It is for this reason that a sick individual’s name is changed since the current name could be what is causing the illness. Thus, when praying in the presence of the individual and not mentioning his name, there is a greater chance of arousing Heavenly mercy for his speedy recovery.
Regarding our second question about when praying for an ill individual while not in his presence whether his father’s or mother’s name should be used, the Gemara (Shabbat 66b) states explicitly that all prayers should be in the format of “one’s name, son/daughter of, one’s mother’s name.” The Rishonim quote several reasons for why it is always better to use one’s mother’s name. Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l writes in his Responsa Torah Lishmah and in his Sefer Ben Yehoyada (Berachot 55b) that the reason for this is because when mentioning one’s father’s name, there is a possibility of arousing prosecution upon the ill individual, for there is usually more prosecution in Heaven upon men than upon women since men are liable for the grave sin of wasting time from Torah study whereas women are exempt from the Mitzvah of Torah study, it is therefore better to always mention the mother’s name rather than the father’s. Another reason for this is because women usually endure more suffering in this world than men through pregnancy, labor, and raising children (of which the responsibility is primarily upon women who are at home more); thus, many of their sins are atoned for as a result of this suffering as opposed to men and it is therefore better to mention one’s mother’s name as opposed to one’s father’s name. There is another reason for this quoted in the holy Zohar and according to this reason, even if the father of the individual was known to be more of a righteous individual than the mother, the mother’s name should still be mentioned and not the father’s (see Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 2, OC, Chapter 11).
Regarding a Hashkava prayer during which the names of the deceased are mentioned after the Torah reading in the synagogue, there are varying customs and some specifically mention the father’s name. Maran zt”l writes that none of these customs are detrimental in any way and thus, there is no need to change any specific custom and either one is fine. Similarly, if the name of the mother of an ill or deceased individual is unknown, the father’s name may be mentioned and this poses no concern at all.
The Sefer Temim De’im writes that when one prays while crying, those praying do not require the assistance of the Heavenly angels to bring their prayers up to Hashem, for the Gemara (Baba Metzia 59a) states that the gates of tears have not been locked. Similarly, if one prays with intense concentration during perilous times, the prayers are heard even if the angels do not understand the language of the prayer. May Hashem answer all of our prayers for the good, Amen.