I boarded the Delta flight and quickly found my seat, ready for the long trip to San Diego to attend a business conference.
A few minutes later, a young woman sat down next to me and immediately engaged me in conversation. She asked me where I was from, what I did professionally, why I was going to San Diego.
I politely answered her questions, and at this point felt obliged to reciprocate by asking about her life.
“I’m on a journey,” she said, “and I’m not quite sure how and where it will end.” She told me that she graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in English literature, spent a year teaching English in public school, spent the following year volunteering at a kibbutz in Israel and then applied and was accepted to a graduate school program in California, but she was still not sure that this was what she wanted to do.
I tried to reassure her. “You are still very young, and I know that you will eventually find what you are looking for,” I said.
The plane took off, and I reached for my wallet and pulled out a copy of Tefilat Haderech (The Traveler’s Prayer), a blessing that is customarily recited before embarking on a significant trip, in which we ask God to allow us to arrive at our destination safely. I get great personal comfort from saying this prayer, especially in these scary and turbulent times for travelers, and I always recite it on every plane trip that I take.
The young woman glanced over my shoulder inquisitively, and when I finished, she said,” I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what were you just reciting?”
I explained that it was a special prayer that some Jews say before traveling, requesting from God that they arrive at their destination safely.
“I never heard of that prayer,” she said.
“It’s not that well known,” I answered.
I took out a book that I brought for the plane ride, and began reading. However, I could tell by the expression on her face that something was bothering her.
“Excuse me,” she said, “but I was wondering about something else. If you recall, I told you when we first met that I was on a journey. Do you think it would be appropriate for me to recite “The Traveler’s Prayer” for the emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey that I seem to be taking?”
I responded that the prayer was really designed to be said by those taking a physical journey, asking God to protect them from harm’s way.
But then I began thinking about it more. I took out the prayer card from my wallet again, and reread the text. There was a sentence that reads, “[M]ake us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.” And another that reads, “May You send blessing in our every handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and the eyes of all who see us.”
I turned to the young woman and said, “I’ve been thinking more about your question. I’m not a rabbi, but after rereading the prayer, I think you might find meaning in at least a portion of the text, and that it actually might be very appropriate for you to recite this prayer to help guide you in your own journey.”
She smiled, and a feeling of comfort appeared on her face — allaying my own fear that she might end up reciting a blessing in vain (which is prohibited in Jewish law).
I continued, “Just do a Google search for ‘The Traveler’s Prayer’ or ‘The Wayfarer’s Prayer’ and you should be able to find a transliterated version of the prayer or an English translation online.”
About five hours later the plane landed safely, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude and relief — an emotion I always experience after a safe landing.
“Good luck on your journey,” I said to the young woman, as we both began retrieving our belongings.
“Thank you for the information about ‘The Traveler’s Prayer,’” she responded. “I’ll be sure to look it up.”
We both departed from the plane, most likely never to see each other again. But on that particular day, we were bound together by a universal emotion: the desire to obtain a safe and secure ending to the journey each of us was taking.
Michael Feldstein lives in Stamford, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.