A Name For A Prayer
What's his name?
When you pray for someone, does it matter if you get their Hebrew name right? I think that this is another ramification of the difference between the rationalist and mystical worldviews.
According the mystical approach, your prayers (or, as is more common with people who subscribe to this approach, your Tehillim or Torah), function to mechanically manipulate various metaphysical forces. If you get the name wrong, then it presumably simply won't work. Now, of course you can claim that Hashem will make the necessary adjustment to the process. Still, the mystical mindset, with its focus on mechanistic manipulations of metaphysical forces via the power of combinations of letters, certainly points in the direction of mistakes being critical. (It reminds me of the joke about the 80-year-old sick woman who called Kupat Ha-Ir to donate to get a refuah shelemah. When given a list of options, she accidentally pressed the wrong number, and ended up pregnant!)
According the rationalist approach, the concept of petitionary prayer is itself complex (for a fascinating discussion of Rambam's view, see Marvin Fox, Interpreting Maimonides); but basically it is about developing one's own relationship both with God and with the person for whom you are praying. Accordingly, it doesn't matter if you don't get the Hebrew name correct. What's more important is for you to know who you are praying for.
In fact, I would also point out that historically, when people did not have family names, and when you only knew a few hundred people at most, the way to identify someone was by saying "So-and-so the son of so-and-so." But nowadays, we have family names, and we know many thousands of people. So, from a rationalist perspective, when you ask people to pray for someone, it is more important that they should know the family name - i.e., to know exactly who they are - than for them to be given a name that may well be meaningless to them. You might know many Shmuel ben Leahs, or the name might not mean anything at all to you, but you do know one, and probably only one, Steven Spielberg.
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A note of relevance: Many articles by Prof. Menachem Kellner, many of which relate to Rambam and rationalist Judaism, have been uploaded and can be found at https://shalemcollege.academia.edu/MenachemKellner. A terrific resource!
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