The Answer to the Horrific Accident – Saying the Travelers Prayer with Intention

When we experiencenational disasters such as this week’s serious accident, we must awaken and searchthe meaning of things * We must be diligent in adhering to the laws of tefilatha’derech, and saying it with kavana * Tefilat ha’derech is said in the plural,so that someone traveling will include himself with the public * There is noobligation to  add the words “roadaccidents” to the text of the prayer, but someone who wishes to add it ispermitted * There is doubt whether the prayer should be said for an inter-cityride, and therefore it should be said without the name of Hashem * In our daysit is correct to say tefilat ha’derech when one gets into the car, beforestarting to travel

Mourning and Repentance

In shock and mourning over the passing of the Atar family in a heavenly storm, Yariv and Shoshana and their six children, I dedicate the column for an aliyah to their souls. When such dear people abruptly leave this world, we all have to wake up and examine the meaning of life. The disaster occurred on election day, and the first thought is how small all the personal tensions surrounding the elections are in the face of life itself, and how much we must strive to live in the greatness worthy of the precious life God gave us. Out of this terrible shock, we will deal with the laws of the tefilat ha’derech (the traveler’s prayer) and arouse ourselves to say it with kavanah (intention).

Tefilat Ha’derech and its Meaning

The Sages instituted a prayer for the traveler, it is tefilat ha’derech (Berakhot 29b). The more protected place for people is their natural habitat, i.e., their house or their city. When a person disconnects from the city, his friends and neighbors, and leaves, he is exposed to a certain danger. If attacked, there would be fewer people to come to his aid. If he gets hurt, it will take longer to be taken to the hospital (see Maharal Nativ Gemilut Chasadim 5). Therefore, our Sages instituted tefilat ha’derech.

When we examine the tefillah, we find that the prayer is said in the plural, and this is not by chance. Spiritually, disengagement from the public is the root of the danger for traveling, and therefore anyone who sets out on the road must include himself with the public, thereby making his prayer more acceptable.

Since we are already standing in prayer before the Creator, and asking that our traveling will pass in peace, we continue to ask Hashem to succeed in our path. This is the text of the prayer: “May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our humble request because You are God Who hears prayer requests. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer”. There are certain differences between the wording of the prayer of tefilat ha’derech, and all are worthy.

Is it Necessary to Mention in the Prayer “Road Accidents”

In the past, most of the dangers of the road stemmed from robbers and wild beasts, but today the main danger is from accidents, and the question arises as to whether it is correct to add a request for rescue from road accidents in the wording of tefilat ha’derech.

There are those poskim who say that it is proper to mention in tefilat ha’derech the danger of accidents, and this does not defy the wording of the Sages, for indeed Ha’Ravya wrote that it is permitted to add to tefilat ha’derech unique dangers for a certain road. Some say that one who wishes to add “road accidents” is permitted (Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). There are also those who believe that since we are asking that God save us from “all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth”, road accidents in general are included, and it is preferable not to change the text set by our Sages. In practice, everyone can do as he chooses.

A Blessing is Recited When One Travels a Parsah – Approximately Four Kilometers

Our Sages determined the reciting of tefilat ha’derech for a trip whose distance was more than a parsah (Berakhot 30a). A parsah is four mil, and each mil is 912 meters long. Consequently, the distance of a parsah is approximately four kilometers (3,648 meters). If the travel is shorter than a parsah, tefilat ha’derech is not said, since being close to the community, presumably it is not dangerous. There is no need to be meticulous in measuring the traveling distance – everyone should speculate according to what he considers to be a parsah.

Figured by Distance and Not Time

Some say that the rate of a parsah is meant to give us a period of time, that if the travel takes more than seventy-two minutes, which is the time it takes for an average person to walk a parsah on an unpaved road – tefilat ha’derech must be said. And if less, because the danger does not last for long – tefilat ha’derech is not said.

However, according to the majority poskim, our Sages’ intention was to determine the distance to which tefilat ha’derech should be recited. Their reasoning was, the longer the travel is, the farther away it is from the community, and the greater its dangers. Time is of no importance in this context, since even in the time of the Sages horse riders passed the rate of a parsah in less than ten minutes, and our Sages did not make a distinction between someone walking and a rider, but determined that in any case tefilat ha’derech should be said when travelling a parsah. Therefore, even in our times when there are fast cars, we measure the length of the road, and if it is more than a parsah, tefilat ha’derech must be said. This is even truer today, when road accidents are one of the main dangers to human life on the road.

A Particularly Dangerous Way, Even if it is Short

When the road is dangerous, even its length is less than a parsah, tefilat ha’derech should be said. Thus, when certain roads are considered dangerous due to the harassment of Arabs who throw stones, and sometimes even throw Molotov cocktails or shoot, tefilat ha’derech should be said even if travelling less than a parsah.

Should a Blessing be Recited on Urban Travel

Today, when many people travel long trips within urban areas, a big question arose: whether to say tefilat ha’derech on trips within the city. On the one hand, our Sages determined tefilat ha’derech to roads outside the city, and if so, a blessing should not be recited on a trip within the city. On the other hand, in our time the urban areas have grown extensively, and people can travel for hours without leaving them, such as traveling from Rehovot to Kfar Saba, and back. Today, there is also a danger in these trips, especially when traveling on highways (in fact, more than half of those killed by road accidents, including pedestrians, are killed in the cities).

Indeed, there are those poskim who believe that it is obligatory to say tefilat ha’derech in the city today, since the danger of accidents in the city is equal to the danger outside the city. It is also possible to say that urban roads are not considered an inhabited area, since they are meant for travel only.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that our Sages determined the prayer only for the way outside the inhabited areas, and we have no authority to continue to say tefilat ha’derech within the city. Apart from that, there are those who believe that it was possible to cancel the obligation of tefilat ha’derech outside the city, since it was based on much more dangerous ways, with robbers and wild beasts.

In Practice, It is Proper to Bless Without Saying God’s Name

Practically, it seems that although this is not obligatory, nevertheless it is good for every traveler in the city, who travels approximately four kilometers (a parsah), to say tefilat ha’derech without mentioning the name of God at the end, i.e., to say at the end of the prayer: “Baruch ata, shomay’ah tefilla”. This is what the Responsa Yaskil Avdi (7, Kuntres Acharon 3) wrote, and also what Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l told me.

It is Correct to Say Tefilat Ha’Derech before Beginning to Travel

The poskim are divided regarding where is the right place to say tefilat ha’derech. There are those who say that it is correct to recite tefilat ha’derch in the city when leaving the house (Ateret Zekanim 16: 7), but according to the majority of poskim, although bediavad one fulfills his obligation even when tefilat ha’derech is said in the city, l’chatchilla it is proper to say it after leaving the city, because it is then that the travelling upon which we pray for begins.

However, it seems that today, after we have reached the conclusion that it is good to bless over an urban journey, the correct place to say tefilat ha’derech is when one settles down in the car before the journey begins, so that tefilat ha’derech will apply to all the city travel as well. According to what we have written above, the traveler should act as follows: If the intention is to take an inter-city journey, before starting the trip, tefilat ha’derech should be said with mentioning God’s name. And if the intention is to travel within the urban areas, it is correct to say it without the name of God.

Until when can Tefilat Ha’Derech Be Said

If one forgot to say it upon his departure, if until his destination there remains a parsah (approximately four kilometers), he should say tefilat ha’derech, but if there remains less – he should say the tefilla without mentioning God’s name at the end.

If one travels a few times a day, it is sufficient to say the prayer for the first time, and have intention in his request for all the trips that he makes that day. But if he planned only one trip, and then decided to go again, then he has to say it again. When the travelling continues for a few days, each morning one should say tefilat ha’derech.

Why Doesn’t Tefilat Ha’Derech Open with ‘Baruch

There are those who questioned the text of tefilat ha’derech – why doesn’t it open with ‘Baruch‘, for we have a general rule: any bracha that is not a bracha ha’smucha l’chaverta (lit. a bracha adjacent to its companion – a bracha directly following another), it should open with a bracha?

There are those who believe that one should say tefilat ha’derech close to another bracha, if possible (Maharam of Rothenburg). However, the halacha is that it is possible to say tefilat ha’derech even without saying it close to a blessing, since it is not considered a blessing but a prayer. Others say that tefilat ha’derech is indeed a bracha – the bracha of “Shomaya tefillah” in the Amidah prayers – and since the main place in the Amidah prayer is close to the blessings before it, then even when it is said separately there is no need to open it with “Baruch“.

This article appears inthe ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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