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Tefilat HaDerekh In Modern Times (1)

Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


Translated by David Silverberg




     In this shiur we will address a most relevant issue that is nevertheless shrouded in ambiguity: does one recite tefillat ha-derekh when he drives from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv?  Or, does one recite tefillat ha-derekh when he drives from Gush Etzion to Jerusalem?  Is it appropriate to recite tefillat ha-derekh in places involving halakhic uncertainties (as we will soon see), such as where there is a risk of accidents or Intifada-related stone throwing?


     The commonly accepted practice is to recite tefillat ha-derekh in these situations without "Shem u-malkhut" ("Hashem Elokenu Melekh ha-olam").[1]  We will survey the relevant sources in the Gemara and Rishonim to determine which is the proper approach for a person to take nowadays regarding tefillat ha-derekh.




     The Gemara introduces the halakha of tefillat ha-derekh in Masekhet Berakhot (29b):


"Eliyahu said to Rav Yehuda, the brother of Rav Sala Chasida… and when you embark on a trip, consult your Creator and then leave.  What does it mean, 'consult your Creator and then leave'?  Rabbi Yaakov said in the name of Rav Chisda: This refers to tefillat ha-derekh.  And Rabbi Yaakov also said in the name of Rav Chisda: Whoever embarks on a trip must recite tefillat ha-derekh.  What is tefillat ha-derekh?  'May it be the will before You, the Lord my God, that You shall lead me in peace and direct me in peace, and support me in peace, and save me from the hands of every enemy and ambush along the road, and you shall bestow blessing upon the work of my hands and grant me favor, kindness and compassion in Your eyes and in the eyes of all those who see me.  Blessed are You, Hashem, who listens to prayer."


This Gemara establishes the obligation to recite tefillat ha-derekh ("… MUST recite tefillat ha-derekh").  Later, the Gemara clarifies that the entire blessing must be recited in plural form ("that you shall lead US in peace… "), and, thereafter, the Gemara requires that this prayer be recited "from the time he travels on the road"[2].  At this point (30a), the Gemara adds another provision which constitutes an important and fundamental component of tefillat ha-derekh: "How long?  Rabbi Yaakov said in the name of Rav Chisda: as much as a parsa."  The Behag and Rashi disagree regarding the meaning of this statement.  The Behag, who represents the majority view in this regard, writes, "How long must a person plan to travel to be required to recite the prayer?  As much as a parsa – even if he needs only to travel one parsa.  If, however, he travels less than a parsa, he need not recite this prayer."  In other words, according to the Behag, the Gemara here establishes the distance required for the recitation of tefillat ha-derekh: one recites this prayer only if he travels a parsa; one who embarks on a shorter trip does not recite tefillat ha-derekh.


     Rashi explains the Gemara differently: "As much as a parsa – but not after he traveled a parsa."  According to Rashi, the Gemara addresses here not the minimum distance requiring the recitation of tefillat ha-derekh, but rather a different halakha: one may recite the prayer only within the first parsa of travel (even if a considerable distance remains before he reaches his destination).  Rashi's view is particularly problematic.  Talmidei Rabbenu Yona write (20b in the Rif; see also the Rosh, 4:18), "Not like those who say that if one did not recite the prayer within a parsa he cannot recite it thereafter, for this is inconceivable; so long as one still has to travel, he is obligated with regard to the relevant prayer."  Meaning, despite the fact that the traveler began his trip without reciting the tefilla, he should recite the prayer.  The Rashbatz (Rabbi Shimon Bar Tzemach) expresses this argument very well, in his commentary to Berakhot (30a):


"It seems to me that if one set out on his journey without reciting the blessing over it, so long as a parsa of travel remains, he recites the berakha… We pay no attention at all to what he already traveled, be it a short or long distance.  This interpretation seems more correct, for how could it be that if someone must travel ten parsa'ot, just because he traveled one parsa without the tefilla, he can travel the remaining nine parsa'ot without the tefilla?  Just because one ate garlic and his breath smells, should he eat another garlic so that his breath smells even more?"


The Rashbatz's argument is firmly grounded in the clear, undisputed halakha that if one eats half a fruit and realizes that he had not recited the berakha, he must recite the berakha before proceeding to eat the second half.  Why should this case be any different?[3]


     We have three options in explaining Rashi's position.  We can either modify Rashi's comments, provide a technical reason why reciting the berakha after a parsa of travel poses a problem, or identify a fundamental dispute between Rashi and the Behag which would help explain this ruling.


     The first option appears to emerge from the comments of Talmidei Rabbenu Yona:


"It seems to my master, the Rabbi, that undoubtedly the correct interpretation is that 'how long' means how much travel is considered well on his way [i.e. Rashi's interpretation].  However… OPTIMALLY one must recite it after he leaves the city, within the first parsa, and if he forgot and did not recite it within the first [parsa], he recites it thereafter over that which remains for him travel, so long as he has a considerable distance before he approaches his destination."


The Ritva presents this explanation, as well.[4]


     We should note, however, that these Rishonim present this not as an explanation of Rashi, but rather as their own approach to understanding the Gemara.  It is likely that they did not ascribe this explanation to Rashi because it seems clear from Rashi's comments that one cannot recite tefillat ha-derekh at all after having traveled a parsa: "but not after he traveled a parsa."  (Astonishingly, however, the work "Chefetz Hashem" gives this explanation within Rashi's position.)


     In fact, other Rishonim write explicitly[5] that one cannot recite tefillat ha-derekh at all after traveling a parsa.  The Ra'a there in Berakhot writes, "If he did not recite this prayer until he traveled a parsa, the time has passed and he may not recite the prayer."  The Shiltei Ha-gibborim (6) likewise brings, "Some say that once one has not recited the prayer until a parsa, after being well on his way, he may no longer recite the prayer."  The Mordekhai (94) presents this view as his first interpretation of the Gemara: "How long is the time suitable for this prayer?  Until a parsa.  But once he passed a parsa, this [falls under the category of] 'An error cannot be corrected.'"


     The second option mentioned was chosen by the Penei Yehoshua, who explains that in the middle of a journey one's mind is unsettled and he therefore cannot recite the berakha; other Acharonim explain similarly.


     The third possibility can be found in the Meiri's comments: "Some explain that if one did not recite the berakha upon his departure, he can recite it until a parsa; from this point on, he is not considered as 'consulting with his Creator' and therefore does not recite it."  The Meiri here establishes a new fundamental approach to tefillat ha-derekh.  Theoretically, one can perceive tefillat ha-derekh in one of two ways.  The simplest approach would be that this berakha was instituted due to the dangers of travel.  The second understanding is the one the Meiri introduces (and the Enayim La-mishpat explains accordingly).  In the beginning of the sugya, the Gemara says, "When you embark on a trip, consult your Creator and then leave.  What does it mean, 'consult your Creator and then leave'?  Rabbi Yaakov said in the name of Rav Chisda: This refers to tefillat ha-derekh."  Commenting on the word "consult," Rashi explains, "Ask permission."  Herein lies the fundamental concept of tefillat ha-derekh: asking permission.


     We can now understand Rashi's position, that one cannot recite tefillat ha-derekh after having traveled a parsa.  One can ask permission to embark on a trip only whilst he is in the process of departure.  Once he has passed this point, he can no longer receive permission to depart; in fact, doing so would entail a degree of impudence towards the Almighty.


     This approach, however, becomes very difficult in light of the text of tefillat ha-derekh.  The text clearly testifies to the fact that in this prayer we beseech the Almighty for protection against the dangers of travel.  How, then, can we view the prayer as a request for permission?  I believe we may distinguish between the underlying reason behind the obligation and the nature of the obligation.  Tefillat ha-derekh was instituted as a request for permission.  But how does a person ask God for permission to travel?  How does this request find expression in the framework of prayer?  This berakha cannot be formulated as simply a request for permission, for if so, how would the individual ever know God's response?[6]  Therefore, the berakha takes on the form of a request for protection, which would necessitate his return home without arriving at his destination should a danger arise from which he would otherwise not be saved.


     The Behag, by contrast, understood tefillat ha-derekh as simply a prayer for protection from danger.  Therefore, even if one did not recite the prayer at the beginning of his trip, he must still do so should a parsa of travel remain, for he still requires protection from the dangers of travel.


     Clearly, however, the Behag must agree to the general notion of "consult your Creator and then leave," for this does, after all, appear in the Gemara.  Only as opposed to Rashi, who maintains that this notion, of requesting permission, forms the foundation of tefillat ha-derekh, the Behag understood that this merely expresses the personal aspect, the wayfarer's relationship towards tefillat ha-derekh (which was instituted as a prayer for protection).  This understanding of the Behag's position is of critical importance, and we will return to it later in our discussion.


     In terms of the final Halakha, the Shulchan Arukh (110:7) adopts the Behag's position, but the Rama writes that one should optimally satisfy Rashi's view:


"One recites it after he is well on his way.  One should not recite it unless he has a parsa to travel.  [If one travels] less than a parsa, however, he should not conclude with 'barukh.'  (Rama: Preferably, one should recite it within the first parsa – Rashi and Rabbenu Yona.)  If one forgot to recite it, he recites it so long as he still travels, provided that he has not reached within a parsa of the city in which he wishes to lodge."




     The Behag, as we saw, understood the Gemara to mean that one does not recite tefillat ha-derekh if he travels less than a parsa.  What is Rashi's position on this matter?


     Presumably, Rashi holds that one recites tefillat ha-derekh even when embarking on a trip shorter than a parsa.  After all, once Rashi interprets the Gemara's comment "as much as a parsa" to mean that one must recite the prayer within the first parsa, on what basis would he limit the recitation of tefillat ha-derekh to trips at least one parsa long?  Seemingly, Rashi has no other source for this rule, establishing one parsa as the minimum length required for tefillat ha-derekh, and therefore, it would appear, he would deny this halakha altogether.


     The Ra'a[7] makes this point explicitly: "But regarding [the length of] the trip – they gave no minimum length for the recitation of this prayer."  We may infer this understanding of Rashi's view from the comments of the Bet Yosef, as well.  Immediately after asserting that the Tur adopted the Behag's position, the Bet Yosef adds, "He [the Tur] therefore wrote that one should not recite it unless he has a parsa to travel."  This clearly implies that according to Rashi, one would recite tefillat ha-derekh even when leaving on a trip shorter than a parsa.


     By contrast, the Orchot Chayim (by Rav Aharon Ha-kohen of Lunil, Hilkhot Berakhot, 62) accepts both halakhot: one must recite tefillat ha-derekh within the first parsa, and only when he travels at least a parsa.  (This appears as well in the Kolbo and in the Rikanti, Hilkhot Tefilla, 35.)  As mentioned, however, once one accepts Rashi's understanding of the Gemara, there appears to be no basis for the Behag's halakha.  Though we might be able to resolve this difficulty, the straightforward reading of the Gemara according to Rashi's view supports the position of the Ra'a and Bet Yosef.


     Regarding this issue, too, the Shulchan Arukh (110:7) follows the Behag's view: "One should not recite it unless he has a parsa to travel; [when travelling] less than a parsa, however, one does not conclude with 'barukh'."






1.  This is the conclusion reached by Rav Z.D. Slonim, in "Noam," vol. 9, p.347, and others.  Rav Ovadya Yosef shlit"a, in Yabia Omer 1:13, rules that due to the rule of "safek berakhot le-hakel" (we avoid reciting a berakha when uncertain about its requirement), one should recite the berakha only on a trip that will take at least seventy-two minutes.


2.  The Taz and the Magen Avraham argue as to the meaning of the Gemara.  According to the Taz (110:7), one may recite tefillat ha-derekh even within the city, before embarking on his trip.  The Taz claims that when the Shulchan Arukh writes that one recites tefillat ha-derekh "after he is well on his way," he means from the moment a person decides that he will travel.  The Taz then adds, "I saw that some people ensure not to recite it until they have actually left the city… This has no origin at basis in any of the interpretations, for the Maharam Mei-Rutenberg would recite it in the morning, immediately after birkot ha-shachar" (as noted there in the Shulchan Arukh, se'if 6).

According to the Magen Avraham, however, one should recite tefillat ha-derekh only after he leaves the vicinity of the city, defined as seventy amot (approximately thirty-five meters, or, according to the Chazon Ish, forty-one meters) after the houses end (or after the eruv ends).  As for the Maharam's practice, the Peri Megadim explained (Mishbetzot Zahav, 7) that he observed this practice only when he embarked on a trip before tefilla, such that he recited his tefilla already in transit.  As for the final halakha, one should optimally recite tefillat ha-derekh only after he leaves the city, in accordance with the Magen Avraham's position (though one should wait too long; see below), but be-di'avad, one may rely on the Taz's view (Mishba Berura, 29).


3.  See my article, "Birkat Ha-mapil" in "Alon Shevut," vol. 139, p.40.


4.  The Rama rules this way, too, in Shulchan Arukh (110:7), though this does not necessarily prove that he adopted this interpretation of the Gemara.  He may have merely decided that one should preferably recite tefillat ha-derekh within the first parsa to satisfy Rashi's view, but be-di'avad, he may recite it even after the first parsa, relying on the Behag's position.  (The source for the Rama's ruling is cited as Rashi and Rabbenu Yona, though this might mean that he ruled that one should try to satisfy Rashi's position also because of Rabbenu Yona's stance.  Additionally, we know that the citations of sources in the Rama's glosses were not written by the Rama himself, and were added later.)


5.  Besides the Rishonim mentioned here, the Ravya and Meiri adopt this ruling, as well.


6.  The Tzelach (there in Berakhot) explained this line in light of what the mishna tells about Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa (Berakhot 34b): "It was said about Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa that he would pray for the ill and say, 'This one will live, and this one will die.'  They said to him, 'How do you know?'  He said to them, 'If my prayer was fluid in my mouth, then I know it is accepted; otherwise, I know that it is rejected'."  But this works well for Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa; what about for the rest of us?


7. Even Talmidei Rabbenu Yona and the Ritva, who essentially follow Rashi's approach only permit reciting tefillat ha-derekh be-di'avad after the first parsa, do not explicitly mention the distance of a parsa.  They rather write, "he recites it thereafter over that which remains for him to travel, so long as he has a considerable distance before he approaches his destination."  This implies that even if less than a parsa remains one may recite the prayer, unless he has begun approaching his destination.


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