Now here’s a question you don’t hear often: Who was the first person in history to say Tefilas Haderech?
The answer is actually in this week’s parsha -
וַיִּדַּ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב נֶ֣דֶר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־יִהְיֶ֨ה אֱלֹקים עִמָּדִ֗י וּשְׁמָרַ֙נִי֙ בַּדֶּ֤רֶךְ הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָנֹכִ֣י הוֹלֵ֔ךְ וְנָֽתַן־לִ֥י לֶ֛חֶם לֶאֱכֹ֖ל וּבֶ֥גֶד לִלְבֹּֽשׁ׃
וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑י וְהָיָ֧ה ה' לִ֖י לֵאלֹקים׃
“Yaacov then made a vow, saying, “If God remains with me, protecting me on this journey that I am making, and giving me bread to eat and clothing to wear,and I return safe to my father’s house— Hashem shall be my G-d.” (Breishis 28:20-21)
Of course, this is not the nusach of Tefilas Haderech that we say today, but it’s the first recorded instance of a tefillah for safety on a journey.
The Torah also tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu and the Jewish people davened before each step on their journey through the desert:
וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ ה' וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃
“When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say:
Advance, O Hashem!
May Your enemies be scattered,
And may Your foes flee before You!”
Ba’alei Hatosefos in Daas Zekeinim say that this was Moshe Rabbeinu and Bnei Yisrael’s Tefilas Haderech. They davened for the enemies to run away and leave them to experience a safe and pleasant journey.
The gemara in Brachos 29a tells us that Eliyahu Hanavi instructed us to say Tefilas Haderech before every trip and quotes a nusach that we recognize from our siddurim.
But it all began with Yaacov Avinu, who understood instinctively that no journey can be successful without Hashem’s help and protection. He taught us by example to trust in Hashem’s Divine protection and have faith that with His support, we will reach our destination safe and sound.