Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.
It’s the middle of the summer and many of us are heading off to camp or packing the family into the car for a vacation or embarking on some kind of journey. What a perfect opportunity to take a look at Tefilat Ha Derech – the traveler’s prayer. Our biblical ancestors often uttered a prayer asking for God’s blessing as they set out on a significant journey; it seems that they realized the importance of having God with them as they traveled.
Perhaps it was these ancestors that inspired sages of the Babylonian Talmud to compose a text for Tefilat Ha Derech that is quite similar to the one found in our Siddur today. The Travelers prayer asks that God guide us in peace, protect us from any evil that may befall us during the journey and that God help us to reach our chosen destination in peace. At its conclusion the Tefilat Ha Derech thanks God for being attentive to our concerns and always hearing our prayers.
Rabbi Levi Cooper of the Pardes Institute of Jerusalem indicates that the Prophet Elijah (you remember him from Passover?) communicated the requirement of a prayer for travelers to one of the great sages of the Talmud. It was in response to this directive from Elijah, according to tradition, that the sages included the requirement for Tefilat Ha Derech in the sacred legal text:
“…when you depart on a journey, beg leave of your Creator and then set out.” Our sages explain that begging leave of God refers to the [traveler’s] prayer (B. Berachot 29b-30a).”
Rabbi Ruven Hammer, in his excellent commentary to our Siddur relates that this prayer was originally couched in the singular but in their wisdom, the Talmudic scholars changed it to the plural to coincide with the other prayers of the Siddur. We are thus reminded that none of us is every completely all alone, we always have the possibility and the responsibility to connect to our community.
A interesting understanding of the requirement to recite a blessing when embarking on a journey is presented by Rav Moshe Targin of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel who locates the Tefilat Ha Derech in the context of the other Blessings we typically recite:
“The Gemara does not supply the reason for consulting with God before beginning a journey. One might claim, however, that this tefilla is a form of asking permission to travel or relocate in God’s world, just as we ask permission to eat from His food or to study His Torah by reciting a prior Bracha. Though the actual content of this request is our asking Him to protect us, the function of the Tephila is to symbolically receive permission to make the trip. By asking God for protection, we effectively consult with Him prior to the trip.”
What Rabbi Targin seems to suggest and what biblical and Talmudic ancestors clearly understood is that the Almighty is an excellent traveling companion. As we journey through life, whenever we utter any Bracha (Blessing) we automatically evoke Gods presence in what ever it is we are doing; from drinking wine to washing our hands to reading the Torah to welcoming a new baby into the covenant. How much more important is it to remember that when we travel, whether for a vacation or for business or even, God forbid, for an unpleasant purpose, that we always have to make room for one more passenger. Where ever our journeys may take us, in what ever direction we may go, our Creator, the source of all Blessing, is always there with us, at our side.
If you are off on a journey I say to you in the traditional Yiddish; Gai Gezuterheit unt kum Gezuterheit – go in good health and return in good heath.
This is a video of an inspired setting of Tefilat Ha Derech:
Kaskeset Sings T’filat HaDerech by Debbie Friedman
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hazzan Michael Krausman