Reciting Tefilat HaDerech When Traveling in a Tank by Maran HaRav Yehuda Amital, zt”l translated by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


In honor of Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l, a great Torah leader who the Jewish People lost this past July, we will share a number of responsa penned by Rav Amital (Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion) in response to questions posed by students of Yeshivat Har Etzion during their service in Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces). We should note that while Rav Amital is generally renowned for his Lamdut (Talmudic analysis) and Hashkafa (Jewish Thought), he was also quite a competent Halachic decider. The three responsa we are presenting in this series address an area of specific expertise for Rav Amital - Halachah observance in the context of service in the Israel Defense Force. In addition to serving for over four decades as the Rosh Yeshiva of Israel’s largest Yeshivat Hesder whose students serve in the Israel Defense Forces, Rav Amital served as an officer in Israel’s War of Independence.  Thus, Rav Amital was able to combine his expertise in Halachah with sensitivity to the special needs of an observant soldier.

Question: Every morning, we travel in our tanks approximately three to four kilometers as part of our training regime. The trip is filled with a sense of danger and we would like to know whether we should recite Tefillat HaDerech on this trip or not.

Response: The Gemara (Berachot 30a) poses the following question: "Until when [does one bless Tefilat HaDerech]? Rabi Yaakov and Rav Chisda say, 'Until [the distance of a] Parsah’ (the contemporary equivalent is presented later in the article).” The early commentaries disagree as to the correct interpretation of this passage. On the one hand, Rashi believes that the Gemara is teaching that one may say Tefilat HaDerech during only the first Parsah of the trip. The Halachot Gedolot, on the other hand, interprets this passage as saying that one should recite Tefilat HaDerech only if the trip will be the length of a Parsah.

The Rosh (Berachot 4:18) agrees with the view of the Halachot Gedolot, and the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 110:7) rules in accordance with this view. It should be noted, though, that although the Shulchan Aruch states that if one travels less than a Parsah he should not conclude Tefilat HaDerech with the blessing "Baruch Ata etc.," he does not state that in such circumstances one should not say the Tefilah at all. The Rama adds that it is best to recite the prayer during the first Parsah of travel in order to accommodate Rashi's opinion.

The Taz (ibid., no. 6) cites the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (20b in the pages of the Rif, s.v. Misha'ah) who raise a problem concerning the opinion of the Halachot Gedolot. The Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 4:4) states (in the context of its discussion of Tefilat HaDerech) that "all roads are considered to be dangerous" - a broad statement that appears to indicate that even a journey of less than a Parsah is considered to be dangerous. The Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah answer by asserting that the Jerusalem Talmud's statement applies only to travel between cities but not to travel close to a city. The Taz infers from this answer that if a road is truly dangerous, then even if the trip is less than a Parsah, Tefilat Haderech should be recited.

As additional proof to this assertion, the Taz cites the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 219:7) that Birkat HaGomeil should not be recited after traveling less than a Parsah unless the road is exceedingly dangerous. It should also be noted that this position may be inferred from the Rosh (Berachot 4:18) who explains the Halachot Gedolot's ruling that a journey of less than a Parsah is not considered dangerous. The clear implication is that Tefilat HaDerech should be recited if the trip is indeed dangerous. The Mishnah Berurah (110:30) records the opinion of the Taz as normative (see also Taz 219:4 and Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 110:6).

The problem is, though, that if the obligation is dependent on the presence of danger, then Tefilat HaDerech should not be recited if the trip is not dangerous, even if the trip will be longer than a Parsah. Similarly, if the road passes within a Parsah of a settled area, then Tefilat HaDerech should not be recited according to the approach of the Taz. See Biur Halachah (110:7) who raises this problem but does not offer a definitive solution.

Moreover, one may ask why we recite Tefilat HaDerech when traveling in cars and trains if travel on these means of transportation is not more dangerous on the intercity roads than on the roads within a city. In addition, the primary concern in Talmudic times was bandits who preyed on travelers who were particularly vulnerable when traveling on roads far from settled areas. Today, however, this is not a relevant concern. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 1:13) raises this problem and suggests (among other possibilities) that the intercity roads are still more dangerous, since one travels at higher speeds on these roads.

Another possible approach is that in the contemporary era, we have adopted the approach of Rashi that considerations of danger are irrelevant as far as Tefilat HaDerech is concerned. Rashi, as mentioned above, believes that Tefilat HaDerech must be said during the first Parsah of travel. The Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah write that Rashi’s requirement is not absolute. They feel that Rashi believes that it is merely preferable that Tefilat HaDerech be recited during the first Parsah of travel, but if one does not do so, he still must say it as long as a significant part of his journey remains.

However, the simple reading of Rashi indicates otherwise, as noted by Raah, Raavyah (no. 86), and Meiri. They all believe that according to Rashi, once one has traveled a Parsah, one should not recite Tefilat HaDerech. Meiri explains that if one has not made this blessing during the first Parsah of travel, one can no longer be considered “consulting with God” before he travels. Meiri is referring to the Talmud (Berachot 29b), which describes Tefilat HaDerech as “consulting with God” prior to travel. Rosh (s.v. He'malech) explains “consulting” to mean asking permission. Accordingly, Rashi believes that the essence of Tefilat HaDerech is asking Hashem’s permission to travel; therefore, it cannot be recited beyond the first Parsah.

Unlike the Halachot Gedolot, Rashi believes that the obligation to recite Tefilat HaDerech is not connected to a concern for danger during one's travel. This explains our practice of reciting Tefilat HaDerech prior to travel on intercity roads; we are not praying for our safety, rather we are asking permission from Hashem to travel. In addition, it is important to note that according to Rashi there is no difference between trips that are more than a Parsah and those that are less than a Parsah, as the Raah writes explicitly. The fact that this is Rashi's opinion is apparent from Beit Yosef (110 s.v. Ve'yeisah), who writes that since the Rosh rules according to the Halachot Gedolot, Tefilat HaDerech must be recited only when traveling at least a Parsah. It would appear that Beit Yosef is indicating that this is a requirement only according to the Halachot Gedolot.

Let us turn our attention to the issue of Parsah. First, it should be noted that Poskim rule that a Parsah is the equivalent of four kilometers less one hundred and sixty meters. Second, the Mishnah Berurah (110:30) writes that the requirement of Parsah applies even to modern vehicles that travel rapidly (see, however, Yabia Omer 1:13).

With this information, we can now turn our attention to the question at hand. There are three reasons why Tefilat HaDerech should be recited. First, since the area you must drive your tanks (as I saw when I visited you recently) is quite treacherous (with mountains and valleys, which require great skill to negotiate), the rulings of Taz and Mishnah Berurah apply, that even if the trip is less than a Parsah, Tefilat HaDerech should be recited if the trip is dangerous. Second, according to Rashi (whose approach to this issue we seem to have adopted in the modern era), Tefilat HaDerech should be recited even when traveling less than a Parsah. Third, it is possible to consider that the exercises may involve travelling at least a Parsah. The decision to travel less than a Parsah is not your decision, and as far as you are concerned, you are prepared to travel at least a Parsah.

Finally, it should be noted that it is possible that the rule "Safeik Berachot LeHakeil," that one should omit a blessing when in doubt concerning the requirement of its recital, does not apply to Tefilat HaDerech. When in doubt whether Tefilat HaDerech should be recited, Rabi Yochachan's dictum, "It would be ideal to pray the entire day," applies (see Berachot 21a). This also applies to the Berachah of "Baruch Atah Hashem, Shomeia Tefilah" (of Tefilat HaDerech) as indicated by Tosafot (Berachot 29a s.v. Mipnei). Hence, it is possible to suggest that even if one is in doubt whether Tefilat HaDerech is required, it nevertheless should be recited.

In light of all these considerations, you should recite Tefilat HaDerech with a full recital of Hashem’s name. May Hashem save you from any mishap and protect you in your going and coming.

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