Tefillat Haderech: A Prayer to Travel Through Life
Yaakov has just left his home, and is headed to Haran to find a wife from the house of Lavan. He will spend the next twenty years building his family, and establishing his financial independence. En route, he vows to
In the context of the priestly blessing, we first mention material blessing (yivarechecha) and then ask that G‑d protect that blessing (v’yishmirecha). But here, Yaakov first asks for protection (guard me on this path) and then for the blessing (bread to eat and food to wear). Since he has no more than the shirt on his back, he cannot be referring to his possessions. But there is something he did pack for his journey, in abundant supply — his spiritual and moral attainments.
Until now, Yaakov has been a yoshev ohalim, dwelling in the tents of study. He now sets out to seek a wife and a livelihood to support a family. He is right to fear the dangers that lurk ahead. Once Paradise was lost, and man was to eat by the sweat of his brow, earning an independent livelihood became complex. More than effort and skill are required to gain that loaf of bread. Rarely is the race for that loaf unaccompanied by pressure to attain social status. That “path to bread and clothing”, having become a dizzying quest for success, is ridden with potholes. Unscrupulous business practices, dubious marketing techniques, unfair competition, and undignified treatment of employees are but a few of the stumbling blocks on this path. “This path,” our Sages comment, alludes to cardinal sins such as idolatry, illicit relations, murder, and slander. It takes courage and conviction to walk this road with honesty and integrity, to continue to value hard work, even as the outcomes of clever cunning seem ever more gainful. The path is indeed steep and thorny, with luxuries and windfalls beckoning the traveler to stray from his honest and law-abiding toil.
Yaakov’s prayer is a model for similarly situated travelers. First, he prays for the preservation of his character, that he not forfeit his integrity. Only then does he ask for respectable sustenance (food) and social position (clothing). His third wish is for “shalom” — peace — and “return to his father’s home” — intact family ties.
Finally, Yaakov vows that he will respond to
- Source: Commentary, Bereishet 28:20-21