The Nature of Tefillat Ha-Derekh

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
Dedicated in memory of Rabbi Jack Sable z”l and
Ambassador Yehuda Avner z”l
By Debbi and David Sable
The gemara in Berakhot (28b) presents the “tefilla” known as tefillat ha-derekh. The simple understanding of this halakha is that Chazal instituted a special tefilla to be recited when traveling due the unique dangers of transit.
However, the view that tefillat ha-derekh is patterned after a tefilla raises a number of questions. First, we have no precedent of Chazal adding tefillot that conclude with the name of Hashem. Although various tefillot were added to the daily structure of Shacharit (such as the Birkhot Ha-Shachar and Birkhot Keriat Shema), these are not stand-alone tefillot but sections appended to Shacharit. Alternatively, the precedents we do have for additional stand-alone tefillot (such as the famous tefilla of R. Nechunya ben Hakana upon entering and exiting the beit midrash) do not conclude with an actual berakha. It is difficult to imagine Chazal instituting a stand-alone tefilla that concludes with a berakha. In his comments on this gemara, the Pnei Yehoshua raises this point in considering the status of tefillat ha-derekh.
Additionally, the language of this “tefilla” may indicate that it should not be considered a halakhic tefilla. The original concept of tefillat ha-derekh was delivered by Eliyahu HaNavi in a conversation with R. Yehuda, in which Eliyahu instructed that “when you travel, you should [first] consult with your Master (himalekh be-konekh).” If this were a classic tefilla, why wouldn’t Eliyahu simply articulate it as such? Why doesn’t he simply encourage travelers to pray for protection? Evidently, the text we refer to as tefillat ha-derekh may be understood as something other than a tefilla.
The alternate model toward understanding tefillat ha-derekh may be glimpsed in an interesting debate surrounding the syntactical structure of this text. Tosafot (Pesachim 104b; see also the R”I, cited by the Tur, OC 110) explain that tefillat ha-derekh does not begin with the word “barukh” because it is only a tefilla, and many tefillot do not begin with the word barukh. However, the Tur cites the Maharam MiRotenberg, who claims that ideally tefillat ha-derekh should be juxtaposed to a different berakha so that it begins with the word barukh of the previous contiguous berakha (berakha ha-semukha le-chaverta).
Evidently, Tosafot maintained that tefillat ha-derekh is indeed a tefilla and does not require an introductory mention of the word “barukh,” whereas the Maharam MiRotenberg may be asserting that tefillat ha-derekh is not a tefilla, but rather a berakha. Most classic berakhot begin with the word “barukh”; those that do not are juxtaposed to an earlier berakha so that they are associated with the “barukh” of the first Berakha. Tefillat ha-derekh is not different from any other berakha which requires either an actual mention of the word barukh or juxtaposition to another berakha.
A similar debate surrounding the nature of tefillat ha-derekh and its syntax emerges between the Ra’avad and the Avudraham. The Ra’avad (teshuva 44) claims that not all berakhot include the name of Hashem and the word melekh. Berakhot that are not “kavua,” - are not recited with set regularity - do not require Shem u-malkhut (the name of Hashem and the word melekh). To prove his theory, the Ra’avad cites two examples of berakhot that do not contain these elements: zimun (before Birkhat Ha-Mazon) and tefillat ha-derekh. Since these berakhot are not fixed, but are rather recited only under certain conditions, they do not require Shem u-malkhut.
The Avudraham rejects the Ra’avad’s proof, claiming that tefillat ha-derekh is not classified as a berakha, but rather a tefilla, and that is why it does not include Shem u-malkhut. The absence of Shem u-malkhut from tefillat ha-derekh in no way reflects a principle about berakhot in general. Obviously, the Ra’avad views tefillat ha-derekh as a berakha, as he employs it as proof to a concept that governs berakhot in general.
A additional syntactical issue surrounding tefillat ha-derekh is the issue of inserting specific additions to tefillat ha-derekh. A statement of the Ra’avyah (Hilkhot Tefilla 86) endorses personal additions to the standard text of tefillat ha-derekh provided by the gemara. For example, if a person is traveling in the desert, he may mention specific desert-related perils in his tefillat ha-derekh. This flexibility to shape tefillat ha-derekh to personal circumstances is more characteristic of tefilla than of berakhot. We rarely find berakhot that can be formatted for specific conditions, but we do allow tefilla to be personally crafted.
Having traced various discussions in the Rishonim surrounding the syntax of tefillat ha-derekh and whether it is modeled after a berakha of a tefilla, it is possible to better understand two debates amongst the Amora’im. The tefillat ha-derekh text initially provided by R. Yaakov articulates tefillat ha-derekh in the singular: “escort me, protect me…” Abaye disagrees and mandates that tefillat ha-derekh be articulated in the plural: “escort us, protect us…” In rationalizing Abaye’s view, Rashi claims that the plural form of tefillat ha-derekh is modeled on the employment of the plural during tefillot in general. Just as tefilla is phrased in the plural, so should tefillat ha-derekh be articulated in the plural tense. Evidently—at least according to Rashi—Abaye associated tefillat ha-derekh with tefilla and demanded a classic tefilla grammar. Presumably, R. Yaakov disagreed, arguing that tefillat ha-derekh is not a tefilla but a berakha, and the singular phrasing is therefore more appropriate.
An additional debate among the Amora’im may be based on this question of whether tefillat ha-derekh is a tefilla or a berakha. R. Chisda demanded that tefillat ha-derekh be recited while standing stationary, while R. Sheshet allowed it to be recited while traveling. It is unclear why R. Chisda demanded standing still during tefillat ha-derekh. Is this merely a technical requirement, to allow greater focus and kavana? Or does R. Chisda view tefillat ha-derekh as a tefilla that requires standing, as in the case of most tefillot?
Finally, this question frames an interesting “contradiction” between tefillat ha-derekh and an ensuing mishna in Berakhot. The mishna in Berakhot (54) describes the unique tefillot that a person adds upon departing a city and when arriving. This extra tefilla for someone departing a city appears to be redundant, since tefillat ha-derekh is also recited when departing a city. Why doesn’t the mishna list two tefillot to be recited upon departure – the tefilla listed in the mishna as well as tefillat ha-derekh? In fact, the Beit Yosef cites the Kolbo, who merges the tefilla of the mishna with tefillat ha-derekh. However, the two gemarot do not refer to each other, and it appears that they are discussing completely different halakhot. Viewing tefillat ha-derekh as a berakha and not a tefilla would solve the redundancy issue. The mishna discusses a tefilla that is recited when departing a city, while the gemara discusses a berakha recited when traveling.