Tefillat haderech

Prayer for going on a journey

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, July 7, 2011

When setting out on a journey, one says the tefillat haderech, asking God to "guide our footsteps toward peace". The halachic obligation to say this prayer kicks in once one is about a kilometre out of the city and beyond any homes.

Journeys have figured big in Jewish history. For Jacob, the road was particularly perilous. After losing his beloved wife Rachel "on the road in the land of Canaan", Jacob refused to let Benjamin go down to Egypt "since he feared that he might meet with disaster". According to the Midrash, Jacob worried that Benjamin might die on the road like his mother.

Although most of our journeys are not of biblical proportions, we certainly need extra protection while travelling and not in full control of our circumstances. However, in truth, the prayer is relevant to all of life.

Before the concluding blessing of tefillat haderech, we ask God to bless "our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us". The prayer seems not only to be about safety but also about choosing destinations that embody the right values.

Last updated: 9:49am, July 7 2011