The meaning of the Tefilat HaDerech (Traveler’s Prayer or Wayfarer’s Prayer) is that we leave the place where we think we live, to another place and path.
We do not know how long we will be on the road and when we will reach our destination. Maybe we think it will take just a couple of minutes, and then we find ourselves on a path that takes several years, which could start seeming endless.
Where the prayer writes, “lead us in peace,” it means that we should bring no harm to anyone in our path forward in life, i.e., in what comes from us outwardly to others.
Likewise, “direct our steps in peace” means to let there be peace for ourselves and for everyone we encounter on our path forward.
“And cause us to reach our destination in life, joy and peace” means that ultimately, everything we do on our path should be good for everyone.
The direct literal translation of “Tefilat HaDerech” is “prayer of the path.” What is the path? It is absolutely everything, and it is endless: the prayer of our direction and our existence, i.e., how our lives should be.
“Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world” means that we should observe our movements from one inner state to another. It does not discuss geographical locations. Rather, it emphasizes our peaceful progress so that we avoid problematic encounters with anyone and so that we safely reach our destination: a “place” where we connect with others with ever-greater bonds of kindness.
The path is thus the direction to more and more connection with others and nature. Why else would we wish to leave our abodes? It is so that we exit to a greater connection time and again.
The robbers are then those obstacles sent to us on the path, which help us further connect with each other in order to reach our true and final destination in life, the purpose of our lives.
We never make a prayer in order to have a smoother path, but we wish for the path to bring us to our destination, to more and more closeness among each other and with the single good and benevolent force in reality, which Kabbalists call “the Creator.” Since coming to closeness with each other and the Creator depends on us adjusting our attitude to be good and benevolent outwardly to them, then we come to discover that they are one and the same.
Then the prayer continues: “May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.” It refers to us treating the world and everything that comes our way as best as we possibly can, i.e., trying to justify everything and staying connected to the idea that everything stems from the single good and benevolent force, the Creator. By doing so, we ourselves become benevolent conduits of goodness. This is the meaning of “May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands.”
There can only be a blessing if we strive for greater closeness. Without an effort to reach more closeness with each other and the Creator, then we would not be able to ask for such a connection, and we would accordingly receive no blessing.
The prayer then ends: “And bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You G‑d, who hearkens to prayer.” That is, the prayer ends in us thanking the Creator for hearing the prayer.
However, does the Creator really hear this prayer?
It is important to understand that the Creator is the single force of reality that acts within us, and so everything we think and say, we say practically with His desire. In general, He does it all Himself. In other words, the Creator Himself places the prayer into our mouths as He is the single force that exists in everything.
It is important to understand that this prayer is not simply a prayer for travelers who leave onto the road from one geographic location to another, but it is a prayer for the path of life. Everything that is implied in the Torah, in prayers, is all a means for our exit into life, and “life” in its fullest meaning is the eternal and perfect life that we attain when we learn to apply the same attitude of the Creator—goodness and benevolence—from ourselves outwardly.
In order for such a prayer to truly be heard, it is insufficient to simply say it with our mouths. We rather need to pronounce it in our hearts. When the prayer comes from our heart, then it is of utmost importance, and it influences the Creator.
Here is the prayer, Tefilat HaDerech:
May it be Your will, G‑d, our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Save us from every enemy and ambush, from robbers and wild beasts on the trip, and from all kinds of punishments that rage and come to the world. May You confer blessing upon the work of our hands and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us, and bestow upon us abundant kindness and hearken to the voice of our prayer, for You hear the prayers of all. Blessed are You G‑d, who hearkens to prayer.