Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Departure Special: T'fillat Haderech (Traveler's prayer)

In a few short hours I will be boarding a plane for Israel, providing me with a perfect opportunity to say and discuss t'fillat haderech. The bracha itself can be found in Brachot 29b/30a. Below is the translation of the Hebrew text.

May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors, to
guide us in peace, to sustain us in peace, to lead us to our
desired destination in health and joy and peace, and to bring us
home in peace. Save us from every enemy and disaster on the
way, and from all calamities that threaten the world. Bless the
work of our hands. May we find grace, love and compassion in
Your sight and in the sight of all who see us. Hear our
supplication, for You listen to prayer and supplication.
Praised are You, Lord who hears prayer.

What has struck me most significantly today, is the universality of this particular blessing. The reader is asking for a number of types of protection, even invoking sections that ring familiar from the end of the thirteen weekday blessings of the Amidah.

However, today I am traveling alone, and the bracha stresses "us" repeatedly. You could make the argument that "us" might include my fellow travelers, but to be honest they are total strangers. Which is not to say that they are not worthy of receiving blessings, rather that usually "us" refers to a group where there is some communal connection. During daily t'fillot in the context of a congregation, independent minyan, or college campus, the "us" seems to have more resonance.

I suggest trying to read the text in first person singular voice, and see how that feels. Do the dynamics of the bracha change? Do you feel that you're isolating yourself from others? Towards the end of creating a meaningful prayer space, I hope critically reading the texts assists in the process.

For more investigation, Brachot 29b/30a the aforementioned location of the bracha, also contains a few words about saying the bracha with a group. Found here in English and here in the original.

I welcome your thoughts, my next post will be from Eretz Yisrael.

1 comment:

Jacob T said...

T'fillat Haderekh is non-standard in a couple of key ways. Initially, as you mentioned, the text was in the singular (and restated in the plural largely to bring it in consonance with the bulk of our liturgy). Second, and significantly, it's a brakha form that does not exist elsewhere--it lacks a petiha (opening brakha formula), and yet concludes with a hatima (closing brakha formula that lacks the elohenu melekh ha-olam). The yehi ratzon milfanekha opening is in keeping with spontaneous personal prayer rather than statutory congregational liturgy, perhaps a holdover of pre-rabbinic worship. The Tefilat Haderekh is some old magic, and hopefully it will work for you.

Nesiyah Tovah, Lieutenant.