The Traveler’s Prayer — or Tefilat Haderech in Hebrew — is said as we embark on a journey. It is meant as an assurance of safety along the way. When we leave the comforts and familiar surroundings of home, it’s natural to feel a bit vulnerable or apprehensive, so it’s a good time to remember that we are ultimately safe, guided, and blessed.
This prayer can be chanted at the onset of a journey by foot, car, bus, boat, train or plane. It can take us to a place of calm and spacious awareness. It reminds us that God is with us and to pay attention to the gifts that might otherwise be missed along the way.
The foundational story of Judaism — which is remembered, celebrated and relived every single day — is the story of a journey. In the beginning, we journey into existence. Then we journey with Abraham into the unknown and then into the entanglements of family dramas. We journey from there down into Egypt and into the suffering and constriction of slavery (the Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, literally “the narrow place.”). Our journey from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land, represents the journey of awakening.
Major Jewish holidays celebrate important points on that journey. On Passover, we commemorate the leave-taking. On Shavuot, we celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai along the way. Sukkot reminds us of both our fragility and abundance as we journey forth.
In fact, everything that is important to our spiritual development as a people happens along the way.
There is a yearly cycle of readings from Torah that all Jews follow, which leads us from the very beginning of creation to the moment when we are about to arrive in the Promised Land. And then we never really get there. After all that anticipation, all that promise, we start over again. We’re right back at the beginning.
If the destination was the point of it all, then this might become very frustrating. But it is the journey that matters.
We read this story again and again — discussing, analyzing, and extrapolating about it endlessly — because it is meant to be a mirror of our own soul’s journey. By reflecting on our journey, we are meant to wake up to both the wonder and magnitude of each and every step, and the amazing miracle of the whole journey in all its glory, absurdity and sweetness.
There is a way that these two awakenings—to the miracle of the journey and to this step right here beneath our foot — are symbiotic. The moment when we can step back and marvel at the twists and turns, the synchronicities and blessings that have brought us to the here and now — that is the moment of realization that every step matters. Walking with that kind of awareness, deliberately opening to the grace of each step, enables a vision of the wide perspective of our whole amazing life’s journey.
Each of us walks the path of a valiant hero on a remarkable journey, filled with the human adventures of birth, illness, romance, divorce, loss, triumph, heartbreak, healing and aging into wisdom. And yet we often just accept it all as boringly normal and tedious.
Traveling is a reminder that all of life is an extraordinary adventure. Traveling awakens curiosity and wonder and brings those qualities to every step of life. Being awake in this way is a paradox. With each step, we arrive in the Promised Land and all there is to do is celebrate. Yet we are also always forever on our way there, stumbling, dancing, opening to all it means to be human, remembering that it is the journey that matters.
Chanting the words of the Traveler’s Prayer blesses this journey, connecting to Holy One who sends us and opening to the possibility that wherever we think we’re going, the destination is in fact the fullness of life, joy, wholeness and peace.
Listen to Rabbi Shefa Gold’s musical version of the Traveler’s Prayer:
Rabbi Shefa Gold is a Leader in Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and director of CDEEP Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice. Her latest book is “Are We There Yet? Travel as a Spiritual Practice“, published by Ben Yehuda Press