Reciting Tehillim 119 for a Departed Soul or for an Ill Patient
There is a time-honored tradition to recite sections of Psalm 119 after a loved one's passing and each year on the yahrtzeit. Additionally, in situations of serious illness, God forbid, it is customary to recite segments from this chapter on behalf of the ill patient. The sections chosen for this recitation correspond to the spelling of the name of the deceased or the ailing patient.
Tehillim 119 is unique not only in its length (consisting of 176 verses), but also in terms of structure. It is arranged as an alphabetical series of twenty-two stanzas, each of which consists of eight verses. The first stanza contains eight verses that begin with the letter alef, the second stanza features eight verses beginning with the letter bet, and so on.
Upon the passing of a loved one, or in the case of an ill patient, Heaven forbid, it is customary to recite the stanzas of Psalm 119 that correspond to the letters of the name of the deceased. Thus, for example, if the individual's name is Moshe (משה), the recitation begins with the eight verses that begin with the letter מ (97-104), and then continues with the stanza devoted to the letter ש (161-168) and the stanza featuring the letter ה (33-40). This recitation is then followed by the stanzas corresponding to the word “ben” (“son of”) for a male, or “bat” (“daughter of”) for a female, followed by the name of the individual’s mother. (Some have the practice to use the name of the father). If the patient’s name is Moshe and his mother was Yochebed, then one would recite the stanzas of the letters ב and נ (which spell the word “ben”), followed by the stanzas of י,ו,כ,ב,ד (“Yochebed”).
In some communities, after reciting the stanzas for somebody who has passed on, one concludes by reciting the stanzas that correspond to the letters of the Hebrew word neshama ("soul") – נשמה.
When reciting this chapter for an ill patient, it is customary to add the stanzas corresponding to the letters ק,ר,ע,ש,ט,ן, which spell the phrase, “kera Satan” (“tear the Satan”).
For either situation, one can use the tool on our website to automatically generate the proper recitation.
Psalm 119 features some of the famous and beautiful prayers in the Book of Tehillim, focusing primarily on the supplicant's yearning for Torah knowledge and spiritual perfection. Throughout this chapter, David speaks of his burning desire to achieve knowledge and fulfill Misvot, and how he is not driven by the ambitions that consume most other people, such as the desire for wealth and prestige. The most meaningful way to bring merit to a loved one's soul, or to accrue merit on behalf of an ailing friend or relative, is to reassess one's priorities and redirect his attention and focus onto the pursuit of Torah and Misvot. Chapter 119 is perhaps the clearest and most inspiring expression of this commitment to making Torah and Misvot one's priority, rather than the endless of pursuit of wealth, fame and physical gratification. By reciting Psalm 119 and internalizing its fundamental message for a loved one, a person brings merit to the deceased's soul, or to the patient in desperate need of divine compassion.