Reciting Tefillat Ha-derekh (The Prayer for a Safe Journey) in a Tank
Every morning we set out in our tanks for a distance of 3-4 kilometers in order to train in the field. The journey is filled with a sense of danger, and the question arises how we should conduct ourselves with respect to tefillat ha-derekh, the prayer for a safe journey.
The Gemara in Berakhot states, in defining a journey that necessitates the recitation of tefillat ha-derekh:
How long? Rabbi Yaakov said in the name of Rav Chisda: Until a parsa (parasang). (30a)
Rashi explains that this discussion pertains to the point in the journey at which one should recite the tefilla (ad loc.):
How long – is the proper time to recite it; Until a parsa – but not after he has already gone a parsa.
In contrast, the Halakhot Gedolot explains that the discussion relates to the length of a journey which demands the recitation of the tefilla:
How long – must he intend to go so that he should be required to say it; Until a parsa – even if he only intends to go a parsa, but for a journey of less than a parsa, he is not required to recite this prayer.
See also the Rosh (Berakhot 4, 18), who prefers the explanation of the Halakhot Gedolot, and this approach is reflected in the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh (OC 110:7) that one does not recite tefillat ha-derekh for trips that are shorter than a parsa. However, a close reading of the Tur reveals that he does not rule out recitation of tefillat ha-derekh for a shorter journey. The Tur writes (OC 110): "But for a journey of less than a parsa, he should not conclude with 'blessed [are you, O Lord…]'." According to the Tur, one should not recite the concluding blessing for a journey of less than a parsa, but there is no problem with the recitation even for a shorter journey.
The Taz (110:6) cites the words of Talmidei Rabbenu Yona (20b in the Rif’s pagination) regarding dangerous journeys that are shorter than a parsa:
There are those who raise an objection [against the Halakhot Gedolot] from the Yerushalmi, which states that all roads are presumed to be dangerous [and thus tefillat ha-derekh should be recited even for shorter trips]. It may be suggested that there [in the case described in the Yerushalmi] he is not close to a town, but walking between villages, where all [roads] are presumed to be dangerous.
Based on this analysis, the Taz establishes that when there is danger, tefillat ha-derekh should be recited even for a journey of less than a parsa. He brings additional proof from the ha-gomel blessing, concerning which the Shulchan Arukh writes (219:4):
In Germany and France, the blessing is not recited when traveling from town to town, for the Sages only required the blessing when traveling in the wilderness, where wild beasts and bandits are commonly found. But in Spain, it is customary to recite the blessing, because all roads are presumed to be dangerous. Nevertheless for [a journey] less than a parsa long, the blessing is not recited. But if it is a place that is known to be very dangerous, [it is recited] even for less than a parsa.
Regarding this the Taz writes (219:4):
From here I learned in section 110 that in such a case one must recite tefillat ha-derekh. This follows by way of a kav va-chomer argument, for the Tur wrote elsewhere that in tefillat ha-derekh one must pray for mercy more than in the ha-gomel blessing, for the ha-gomel offering is in place of a thanksgiving offering.
From the wording of the Shulchan Arukh in section 219 it may be inferred that only if the place is known to be very dangerous should tefillat ha-derekh be recited. This does not accord with the plain sense of the words of Talmidei Rabbenu Yona cited above, that the roads between villages are presumed to be dangerous. This was already noted by the Peri Megadim (110), who concludes:
It is possible that here too it means where it is known to be dangerous, but if not, [tefillat ha-derekh] is not recited.
This position requires further examination, for what is the source that in the case of a journey that is less than a parsa we require a greater degree of danger than in the case of a journey of a parsa? It is possible to argue that a journey of a parsa is different, for we need not consider every road separately whether it is known to be dangerous, but rather since many roads are known to be dangerous, every road is presumed to be dangerous, but this does not apply to a road that is close to a town. The Peri Megadim, however, implies that even with respect to roads between villages, tefillat ha-derekh is only recited in a place that is known to be dangerous. The Rosh also (Berakhot 4:18) implies that in a place of danger, tefillat ha-derekh is recited even for a journey less than a parsa, for he writes that the difference between a journey of a parsa and a journey of less than a parsa is that a journey of less than a parsa is not considered to be dangerous.
This, however, requires further consideration, for the implication is that the critical factor is the danger, and so it follows that even in the case of a journey of more than a parsa, in a place where there is no danger, one is not obligated to recite tefillat ha-derekh. And if the road runs alongside towns situated within a parsa from it, one is not obligated. The Bei'ur Halakha (110, 7) indeed deliberates regarding this issue.
More importantly, we must understand the basis of our practice nowadays of reciting tefillat ha-derekh when we travel by car or by train. Surely there is no danger of wild beasts or bandits on the roads, and the danger of travelling between cities is no greater than within them. It cannot be argued that today the danger is one of traffic accidents, for this danger is not exclusive to inter-city roads. The Rishonim and Posekim imply that the tefilla relates to a danger that is directly associated with the place. If we say that we are concerned about traffic accidents, then we should be required to recite the blessing even for city driving.
I saw that Rav Ovadya Yosef, shlita, grapples with this issue in his Yabi'a Omer (I, 13). Among other things, he suggests that there is a danger that is directly associated with the place, for outside town, drivers increase their speed. It may also be argued that we rely on the position of Rashi and the Ra'a, according to whom tefillat ha-derekh does not depend on danger, as will be explained below.
Regarding Rashi's explanation, that the time to recite tefillat ha-derekh is until the person has gone a parsa, but not after he has gone a parsa, Talmidei Rabbenu Yona write as follows:
It seems to our master that the correct explanation is as follows: That "how long" means how long a period is defined as "setting out on a journey." But it is not like those who say that if he did not recite the prayer within a parsa, he must not recite it afterwards. For this is impossible, for as long as there is a [significant] stretch of road in front of him, he is obligated to recite the prayer. Rather, it must mean that it is proper to recite it after he has left the city, within the first parsa.
However, the plain sense of Rashi's words is that after a person has gone a parsa, he may no longer recite the prayer. This is explicit in the words of the Ra'a:
If he did not recite the prayer before going a parsa, its time has passed, and he should not recite it.
The Meiri and Ra’avya (sec. 86) also take this approach, citing this as an instance where "that which is crooked cannot be made straight" (Kohelet 1:15; see also Berakhot 26a). The reasoning for this limitation is explained by the Meiri:
If he did not recite the blessing upon leaving, he may recite it until a parsa; afterwards this is not “seeking counsel with his Maker,” and he does not recite it.
The reference is to what is stated in Berakhot (29b):
Eliyahu said to Rav Yehuda the brother of Rav Chasida: Fall not into a passion and you will not sin, drink not to excess and you will not sin; and when you go forth on a journey, seek counsel [Rashi: "seek counsel" – ask permission] of your Maker and go forth. What is meant by “Seek counsel of your Maker and go forth?” Rav Yaakov said in the name of Rav Chisda: This refers to the prayer for a safe journey (tefillat ha-derekh).
On this approach, the essence of tefillat ha-derekh is seeking permission to set out on a journey, and Rashi (and the others who follow this approach) maintains that one must not ask for permission after having already done that for which permission is being sought.
It seems then that, according to Rashi, tefillat ha-derekh does not depend upon danger, and therefore there is no difference between a journey of less than a parsa and a journey of a parsa. In fact the Ra'a states explicitly that there is no difference between less than a parsa and a parsa:
But regarding the journey, [the Sages] did not give a measure for the length of the journey for which tefillat ha-derekh must be recited.
This also seems to be the understanding of the Beit Yosef, that according to Rashi, tefillat ha-derekh is recited even for a journey of less than a parsa.
Our master [the Tur] adopted the explanation of the Halakhot Gedolot, with whom the Rosh agreed, and therefore he wrote that it should only be recited for a journey of a parsa.
The term "and therefore" implies that only according to the Halakhot Gedolot is tefillat ha-derekh not recited for a journey of less than a parsa.
As for the measure of a parsa, which is four milim, the Mishna Berura writes (110:30):
One who travels by train should also recite tefillat ha-derekh, even if he travels only a parsa. Accordingly, the preferred manner is to take care to recite tefillat ha-derekh immediately when [the train] begins to move. As the Rema writes below that the preferred manner is to recite it within the first parsa.
However, the Mishna Berura seems to adopt a position with regard to the assessment of distance on rapid transportation with respect to netilat yadayim. The Shulchan Arukh writes (163:1): "If there is no water ahead of him for a distance of four milim, he may wipe his hands with a cloth [rather than seek out water]." On this, the Bei'ur Halakha writes: "It stands to reason that when he travels by way of a 'flying camel,' we do not consider the length of the journey, but rather the time it takes for the average person to walk four milim, which is 72 minutes." It may be suggested that there is no comparison, for the law of tefillat ha-derekh depends on danger, and danger is measured according to the length of the journey. This follows from the fact that in a place of danger, tefillat ha-derekh is recited with the concluding blessing even for a journey of less than a parsa, and so apparently the duration of the journey is not the determining factor.
As for the matter at hand, the length of a parsa is 3840 meters (2 miles and 2038 feet). According to the information you have provided, sometimes you travel this distance, but sometimes not. Now, logically it seems to me that since the matter is not in your hands, and that from your part you prepare yourselves as if you were going for a journey of a parsa, you are obligated to recite tefillat ha-derekh by strict law, and not merely based on the uncertainty. For this is included in what is brought there in Berakhot: "And when you go forth on a journey, seek counsel of your Maker and go forth." And if we consider the element of danger, it stands to reason that even in a situation of uncertain danger, one is obligated to recite tefillat ha-derekh, for essentially every danger falls into the category of uncertainty, and a person should always offer up prayer before misfortune arrives.
This is what seems reasonable to me, but a practical ruling should not rely on what seems reasonable alone. Accordingly, I wish to add that since the roads there are presumed to be dangerous – with steep inclines and descents, and great expertise is required to safely maneuver across those places, as I saw with my own eyes on my last visit with you – it seems that this is included in what the Taz writes: "In a place of danger, one should recite tefillat ha-derekh even for less than a parsa, for we follow the [underlying] reason." And in light of what was explained above, the presumption of danger in our case is no less than the presumption of danger between villages that is mentioned by Talmidei Rabbenu Yona and serves as the source for the Taz's ruling. The positions of the Ra'a and Rashi, as understood by the Beit Yosef, certainly provide strong support for requiring tefillat ha-derekh with its concluding blessing in our case.
It seems to me that a further caveat might be added, that in the case of an uncertainty regarding the obligation to say, "Blessed are You, O Lord, who hears prayer," we do not invoke the rule that "in a case of uncertainty regarding blessings, we follow the lenient position," for this is included in the rule: "O that a person should pray the entire day" (Berakhot 21a). I learned this from the words of Tosafot in Berakhot (29a, s.v. mippenei):
It seems that whoever says: "Blessed are You, O Lord, who hears prayer," after concluding the words of tachanun (the supplication recited while seated following the amida) – is disgraceful, as we say: "From here on, one is forbidden to speak the praises of God" (Megilla 18a) – that is to say, to add blessings. Even if he comes to recite the Shemoneh Esreh a second time it is forbidden, for he appears to be adding to the blessings. And that which was stated above: "O that a person should pray the entire day," that is only in a case where he is uncertain about whether he prayed; but where he certainly prayed, we said above that he must stop even in the middle of a blessing.
We see then that the Tosafot do not distinguish between the blessings of Shemoneh Esreh and the shome'a tefila blessing recited independently, and the implication is that in a case of uncertainty, the blessing may be recited. There is room to discuss the various types of uncertainty, but this is not the forum for such a discussion. In any event, it seems to me that you should recite tefillat ha-derekh with its concluding blessing.
May God protect you from all harm and injury and guard you in all your journeys.
(Translated by David Strauss)
 The beginning of the aforementioned Taz (110:6) has a certain novelty, for he writes that the concluding blessing is not recited when the journey is less than a parsa because "we treat him as if he were in the city." This implies that when the journey is less than a parsa, the person is not seen as being on the road, but rather still in the city. This approach seems to contradict that which he writes afterwards (cited earlier) from the Talmidei Rabbenu Yona based on the Yerushalmi, that all roads are presumed to be dangerous. What is the objection? The Yerushalmi speaks of journey on inter-city roads, as opposed to a journey of less than a parsa, which is treated like being in the city. Accordingly we must say, like the Rosh, that when the journey is less than a parsa, there is no danger, and therefore an objection may be raised from the Yerushalmi.
 Unless we say like the Taz, that less than a parsa is considered like still being in the city.
 From here there is an answer to what I saw in Yalkut Yosef in the name of Rav Ovadya Yosef, that tefillat ha-derekh also depends on a journey of 72 minutes, and the matter is likened to the ha-gomel blessing according to the Sefardi custom, which is recited after traveling from one town to another. In my humble opinion, there is room to distinguish between the two blessings.