(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)
“And Hashem will remove from you all illness, and all of the evil diseases of Egypt which you knew, He will not set upon you, but He will lay them upon all your enemies.” (Ekav 7:15)
One who prays for the sick has fulfilled the mitzvos of “Love your brother as yourself” and performing chesed. The Gemara (Brachos 12a) tells us that “anyone who is able to pray for his friend and does not is called a sinner.” It is therefore very important to become familiar with the different hallachos that may be relevant when praying for the sick.
Praying in front of the choleh
The mitzvah of bikor cholim (visiting the sick) is considered one of the great mitzvos of the Torah. The Tur (Y.D. 335), quoting the Gemara, explains that it is one of the few ways that a person can follow in the ways G-d. Just as G-d visited Avraham when he was sick so to every Jew should visit his brethren when they are sick. Praying for the sick is an extremely important part of the mitzvah of bikor chlim. The Ramban (cited by Bais Yosef and Rama) writes that one who visits the sick and does not pray for him has not fulfilled his obligation. Rav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach zt”l is cited as ruling that simply wishing the choleh a speedy recovery “refua shleima” is a fulfillment of this obligation (see Halichus Shlomo Tefila chapter 8 note 63). This prayer, writes the Gesher Hachaim (vol. 1 page 30), if done so in front of the choleh should be done quickly and quietly. [See Gesher Hachaim who cites which verses one should pray when visiting the sick.]
The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 335:5) rules that when one is praying in front of the choleh one may do so in any language. The Shach explains that the shechina (G-d’s presence) rests with those who are sick and therefore when one is praying in front of the choleh he is doing so directly in front of Hashem, in which case one may pray in any language. However, the shulchan aruch rules that when praying for the sick not in the presence of the choleh one must do so in Lashon Hakodesh. The reason given is that when one is praying (not in the presence of Hashem) one needs the heavenly angels to escort the tefillos in front of Hashem and since the angels are unfamiliar with any language other then Lashon Hakodesh, one must only pray in Lashon Hakodesh. [See the Taz who feels that this is actually a machlokes rishonim, for the opinion of the Rosh is that the angels understand all languages other then Aramaic.] The Maharil Diskin (Kuntres Achron 184) did advance a possibility that even in the presence of the choleh one should only pray in Lashon Hakodesh. However, as explained above, this is not the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and the other poskim. The Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 5 Ramat Rahcel page 17) also notes that the opinion of the Maharil Diskin is in contention of many poskim.
It is worthy to note the ruling of the Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 119:1) who writes that when praying in front of the sick person one need not mention the name of the choleh, rather one should pray that Hashem send a speedy recovery to “this sick person.” His source is from the verse which describes Moshe Rabbeinu praying for his sister Miriam Hanivea. The verse states: “Moshe cried out to the Lord, saying, “I beseech you, God, please heal her.” (Bahaloscha 12:13) He explains that Moshe Rabbeinu did not mention the name of Miriam because she was present at the time of the prayer. This opinion actually preceded the Aruch Hashulchan. The Maharil (cited by Magen Avraham 119) expressed a similar view.
Praying for a choleh, while not in his presence
The Gesher Hachaim writes that when praying for the sick not in the presence of the choleh, one should recite the following eighteen chapters of tehillim; 2,6,13,22,25,30,32,38,69,88,102,103,107,116,118,142,143,130. He adds that if one wishes to add more Tehillim he should recite the following chapters: 9,16,17,18,23,31,33,36,3,41,4,55,56,86,89,90,91,104. [See the Gesher Hachaim for more instructions when praying for the sick.]
Adding a name for the choleh
The Rama (Y.D. 335:10) writes that many have the custom of adding a name to one who is sick. He adds that “changing one’s name tears up the evil decree.” A person’s soul is “hinted” and connected to their name and therefore a change in their name is essentially a change of their being. It is thus understandable that one should not make any changes lightly and should only do so after consulting with a competent rabbinical authority.
The Gesher Hachaim notes that the changing of the name is accompanied by the recitation of Tehillim in the presence of a Minyan and various other special Tefillos, including a special Yehi Ratzon recited specifically when giving someone an additional name, as printed in many Siddurim. He continues to note that the name should be added in front of the choleh’s preexisting name. For example if his name is Moshe and they wish to add the name Rafael. His name for the future will be Rafael Moshe and not Moshe Rafael.
He continues to explain that whether or not the person will continue to be referred to by the new name will depend upon whether he recovers from the illness, and upon the nature of his recovery. If he recovers even a little bit, and is able to get up from this illness and establish himself with his new name for at least thirty days, even if he then gets sick again and dies after these thirty days, since he had established himself after having recovered from his illness for at least thirty days, that new name remains associated with him forever. It is thus written on his tombstone, and is used when a Keil Molei Rachamim is said, when Yizkor is recited, and when Mishanyos are learned in his memory, and so on. If, however, the person does not recover from the illness, meaning that he does not establish himself after having gotten up from the illness for at least thirty days with this new name, then he is referred to and remembered only by his original name, and the new name is ignored.
The Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim (Kuntras Acharon to Siman 217, Inyanei Berachos Ot 7, Amud 105) quotes from the Chida (Sefer Dvash, Maareches 300:4) that there are certain other names which should not be used for this purpose, and certain names which should be used. The common practice today is to give the sick person a name which somehow symbolizes life, health, strength, or some other type of Beracha which expresses the hope that the person will recover from his illness.
Different reasons why we use the mothers name during prayers
The prevalent minhag of Klal Yisroel is that when we pray for the sick we use their mother’s name, for example if a choleh’s name is Yaakov and his fathers name is Yitzchak while his mother’s name is Rivka, we pray for the recovery of Yaakov ben Rivka and we do not pray for Yaakov ben Yitzchak. While for other rituals (writing the Kesuba, receiving an aliyah in shul etc.) we use the father’s name. This custom is based on the Gemara (Shabbos 66b) which cites the ruling of Abaya, namely that when praying for the sick we use the mother’s name. The poskim offer many reasons why this has become the custom of klal yisroel, as we shall discuss:
1) The Sefer Gvul Yehuda (O.C. 2) explains that the reason we use the mother’s name and not the father’s name is because we can never be certain that a person’s father is indeed his father. However, we are able to be one hundred percent certain that his mother is indeed his mother. A similar notion can be found in the Sefer Chochmas Shlomo by the Maharshal. This explanation was already advanced by the Zohar Hakadosh (Lech Licha). The Ben Ish Chai in his Sefer Ben Yehoyada (Brachos 55b) writes that many seforim have offered the previous explanation, however, he disagrees and feels that it is actually disrespectful to question the accuracy of the fathers paternity. Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer O.C. 2:11) wonders how it is possible that the Ben Ish Chai, a gaon who was very well versed in the writings of the Zohar, could dismiss this explanation when it is actually the opinion of the Zohar.
2) The Ben Ish Chai, himself, offers an entirely different explanation. He writes that the reason why we mention the mothers name is to invoke mercy. A woman does not transgress many of the sins that many men commit (bitul torah, hotzas zera etc.) and therefore mentioning the mothers name will help the choleh in a positive way. As apposed to mentioning the name of the father, which may remind the Heavenly court of the numerous sins that the average men transgresses.
3) A third explanation can be found in the sefer Gvul Yehuda (ibid.). He explains that we recall the mothers name so as not to embarrass the children of intermarried couples, whose father’s are not Jewish.
Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that if one does not know the name of the mother one may recall the father’s name in it’s stead. The Chazon Ish (Oral ruling cited in Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1 page 64) adds that one may also mention his surname.
Prayer for a Rebbi or a parent
The Maver Yabok (cited by Chida in Shiurei Bracha Y.D. 335) rules that when one is praying for a parent or a rebbi one should not recall any titles (Hagaon, Chacham, etc.) for “there is no honor in the presence of G-d.” He does note that regarding people that referencing them by name is forbidden (father, rebbi) one is allowed to say “father ploni” or “rebbi ploni.” The Tzitz Eliezer (ibid.) writes the following: “The halacha is that when one is praying for the health of his father, mother, or rebbi, they should be mentioned by name. He should state the following, ‘Please heal and send a speedy recovery, to my father ploni, or my mother plonit, or to my rebbi ploni.’ No other title should be given.”
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