Parsha Mitzvot: Vayechi: Prayer For The Ill
“And it came to pass after these things that someone said to Joseph, ‘Behold! Your father is ill.’” (Genesis 48:1) One of the most important parts of visiting the ill is to pray for them. Most of us are quite familiar with the prayer we recite in the synagogue for someone who is sick. We recite a prayer for a baby immediately after his Brit Milah, or, circumcision. The general practice is to mention the name of the sick person. We are accustomed to mentioning our name when we are praying for ourselves.
Is it necessary to mention the name of the person for whom we pray? Is it preferable? Is it permissible?
(Berachot 34a) Rabbi Yaakov said in the name of Rabbi Chisdah, “it is not necessary to mention the name of someone when we are praying for them to be healed.” We learn this from Moses who did not pray for his sister Miriam by name. The Pri Chadash (119:1) infers from the phrase; “it is not necessary”, that it is permissible.
However, the Sefer HaPardes of Rashi (#287) and the Yalkut Reuveini (Vayeira) insist that we are very strict to not mention the person’s name. The Iyun Yaakov (The end of the fifth chapter of Berachot) rules that one should definitely not mention the person’s name.
The Chatam Sofer (Nedarim 40a) rules that it is not good to specify the name of the person for whom we are praying for healing. He explains that whenever we mention someone’s name we call attention to them and it can lead to the Attribute of Justice arguing against the person who is already vulnerable because of their illness. He explains that this is actually the meaning of the famous Talmudic expression that “One who visits the ill causes them to live”; we would never mention the name of the sick person right in front of him (See Magen Avraham 119), however, the custom is to mention the name when praying somewhere else. The Chatam Sofer continues to explain that therefore when we visit someone and pray without mentioning the name we cause life. When we pray and recite the name in our prayers we are making them vulnerable!
It is clear from the Talmud (Ta’anit 28a, and Jerusalem Talmud Chapter 3, Halacha 4) that when we pray for any other reason that it is perfectly permissible to specify their name. We definitely should mention the name of someone when we pray for their success. It is the vulnerability of the ill person which causes the danger described above by the Chatam Sofer.