What’s in a Name?

“And Moshe cried to Hashem, saying: ‘Please G-d, heal her now.’” (Bamidbar 12:13)

Rashi tells us, based on the gemora in Brochos 34a, that whoever asks for mercy for his sick friend does not need to mention the name of his friend. The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 119) tells us that there is a difference whether one is in the presence of the sick person or not: In the presence of the ailing person, it is not necessary to mention the name, but when not in the presence, it is necessary to mention both the name of the infirm and the mother’s name.

The Chasam Sofer in Nedarim 40a tells us that mentioning the person’s name could possibly have a negative impact because when the name is mentioned, it could bring an element of din on the person. Many times, people have friends, acquaintances and relatives who are in difficult health situations and would like to change their names in order to prevent a negative decree. I was once involved in a situation where a person went to a great Tzadik and explained the medical situation, and the Tzadik said “It seems to me that his name should be changed.” The person then asked, “What name should be added?” To this the Tzadik replied “While it is clear that changing the name will affect the person’s health, I don’t know whether that change will be for the good or bad. For that you must go to a person who has more experience in this field.”

We generally assume that if there is something that is spiritual, it has to be for our betterment. This story and the idea of the Chosom Sofer brings to the forefront that you are not necessarily guaranteed that what is spiritual will be for your betterment. Some of the commentators say that the reason that our custom is to mention the mother’s name when praying for a sick person is that a “mother” is a symbol of mercy. Others say being that since men have more obligations than women, mentioning the father could potentially have a negative effect.

I searched to find a reason to why it is that in the presence of the sick person no name is necessary. I would like to suggest that through names we are giving definition who the person is, allowing scrutiny of his merits. However, when one doesn’t use the sick person’s name, his tefillos go unscrutinized to Hashem. This may be why one of the obligations when visiting the sick is to daven in his presence.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger says that when praying for one’s parents, it is improper to mention a title such as “avi mori” – just the name of the parent plus the name of the grandmother is sufficient. He brings a proof to this but does not give an explanation. I would like to suggest that mentioning a person’s title, such as “avi mori” could have a negative influence on the infirm, by pointing out aspects of who he is. Instead, we should ask Hashem to heal the person as he is, and not with a special title. The Nesivos wrote in his will that any complimentary words about him may be used on his matzeiva. He asked that only one word not be used: Harav! This was because he was worried that by using that word, which signified that he was a halachic renderer, it would cause undesired scrutiny about his halachic decisions.

May we merit to have no need for prayers for the sick, and merit to always find immediate favor in the eyes of Hashem.