For example, if I were to pray that the businessman in front of me win the lottery, but technically he's not a businessman, he's just a person wearing a suit.

Would this prayer not work?

  • Welcome to MiYodeya oy_sir_gevayntlach. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site (see especially point 5 on asking a good question). Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Jun 27, 2018 at 14:59
  • 4
    Could you clarify from where you know that imprecise prayers don't work? Or are you asking if that is the case?
    – mbloch
    Jun 27, 2018 at 15:00
  • Also what is considered imprecise, as there are many (totally valid) traditions regarding prayer texts. Jun 27, 2018 at 15:13
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    You speak of imprecise prayers but the example you give is of an inaccurately stated one. Which do you mean?
    – msh210
    Jun 27, 2018 at 15:33
  • When a prayer comes up, does HaShem really sit there with an "intention -vs- accuracy/articulation" calculator to help Him decide whether to grant it or not?
    – Gary
    Jun 27, 2018 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


Rashi says this on Bamidbar 21:1 (English translation here):

יושב הנגב. זה עמלק (שם) שנאמר (במדבר יג, כט) עמלק יושב בארץ הנגב ושנה את לשונו לדבר בלשון כנען כדי שיהיו ישראל מתפללים להקב"ה לתת כנענים בידם והם אינן כנענים ראו ישראל לבושיהם כלבושי עמלקים ולשונם לשון כנען אמרו נתפלל סתם שנאמר אם נתון תתן את העם הזה בידי (מדרש אגדה):

Basically, after Aharon died, a group of Amaleikim attacked the Jews. They spoke like Canaanites, hoping the Jews would pray that Hashem deliver the Canaanites into their hands; since they were Amaleikim, the prayer would fail. However, they didn’t disguise their clothing. Unsure of who this people actually was, the Jews prayed that Hashem deliver “this nation” - whoever it may be - into their hands, and they were successful.

The clear implication from Rashi is that had the Amaleikim successfully tricked the Jews into praying to be saved from the Canaanites, their prayer would indeed have failed, as they prayed for the wrong thing.

  • thanks! this was actually the Rashi that provoked my question, although I wanted to keep my question more high level - what is the source for Rashi's assumption that this kind of tefilla doesn't work? I recall a Tosfos and a few gemaras that discuss imprecise prayers not being effective.. Jun 28, 2018 at 3:36
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    @oy_sir_gevayntlach If this was the Rashi that provoked your question, then you should include it in your question itself. Always include motivation for the question in the question - notice that you’re at -1 because at the moment there’s no reason to assume, from the information you’ve provided, that what you’ve said is the case. If your question is what is Rashi’s source, besides for the inconsistencies in the verses, you should ask that, though the site policy is that you should ask it as a new question rather than edit, since editing would invalidate pre-existing answers.
    – DonielF
    Jun 28, 2018 at 3:39
  • thanks! clarified my question making sure not to invalidate your answer, hope it provokes more discussion.. Jun 28, 2018 at 4:01

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