By Cheri Wiess
In Jewish tradition, there is a custom of reciting the prayer Tefilat Haderech (“Traveler’s Prayer”) before embarking on a long journey. This prayer beseeches God to protect the travelers from harm and allow them to reach their destination in peace. The origin of this prayer is found in the Babylonian Talmud in which the text is written to protect one individual. However, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Abaye advised that the prayer should be expanded to request that God protect the entire community, so the text we read today is written in the plural:
“May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, that we are supported in peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace…”
The concept of “journeys” figures prominently in my rabbinate-cantorate as well as in my life in general. Our lives are comprised of a series of journeys that begin in our youth and continue through adulthood and eventually (if we are fortunate enough to reach this stage) our twilight years. Each journey presents us with its own set of challenges and, hopefully, many moments of joy.
Our Jewish journey may follow a similar path. There are times when we feel close to God and times in which we feel God has abandoned us. There may be periods in which we choose to explore the riches the Torah has to offer us and times when we are ambivalent. There will be times that we choose to discover how living a Jewish life adds meaning to our lives, while there may be years when this falls by the wayside. Everyone’s Jewish journey is unique, and even the term “living a Jewish life” is specific to each person.
I have lived in San Diego for nearly half of my life. This is where I raised my daughter, Emma; where I lived during my seven years of seminary, driving weekly to and from Los Angeles for most of that time. This is where I taught Judaica to middle schoolers and founded an independent synagogue. In every journey, I learned lessons from those who touched my life, and it is my sincere hope that I left some positive mark on those who I was blessed to know.
Now, Dan and I and our two rescue dogs, Hope and Josie, are set to take the next step in our collective journey. I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve as rabbi-cantor of Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu, Hawaii. So, we will be packing our bags and memories as we undertake this rather huge shift in our lives. I will continue to share my Torah with you in this column, but it will be from a small island on the Pacific Ocean rather than in your backyard.
May the beautiful words of Debbie Friedman’s Traveler’s Prayer always be true in your lives as you continue on your own life’s journey, and may the spirit of our holy Torah continue to light your path.
May we be blessed as we go on our way
May we be guided in peace
May we be blessed with health and joy
May this our blessing, amen.
May we be sheltered by the wings of peace
May we be kept in safety and in love
May grace and compassion find their way to every soul
May this be our blessing, amen.