With the summer vacation upon us, many people will be travelling. When embarking on a trip outside city limits, generally the Halacha dictates that Tefilas HaDerech must be recited. I wanted to mention a few points relating to the Halachos of this Tefila.
There are Poskim who opine that the obligation of Tefilas HaDerech was only enacted when one travels in a normal manner. Consequently, they question the propriety of saying Tefilas HaDerech on an airplane trip. While flying is not less dangerous than driving, and one certainly should express his hope and trust in Hashem before embarking on a flight, the Beracha and text of the Tefilla may not be appropriate. HaRav Shmuel Kaminetzky shlita advised me that if the airport is outside city limits, as is often the case, Tefilas HaDerech can and should be recited on the ride to the airport. Under circumstance where this is not feasible, such as an airport inside city limits, he instructed me that Tefilas HaDerech should not be omitted. However, he did suggest that ideally it should be recited while taxiing down the runway prior to takeoff, and not while airborne. If I understood him correctly, if one failed to say it before takeoff, he should still say it afterwards.
Another point also based on my experiences with the Rosh Yeshiva relates to the common custom of one individual reciting Tefilas HaDerech out loud to be Motzi everyone. It frequently occurs that not everyone has a Siddur handy in the car or bus, and in any event the driver, even if he knows the Tefila by heart, may find it difficult to recite it accurately while simultaneously focusing on the road.
Regarding the ability to fulfill ones obligations by hearing a Bracha instead of reciting it oneself, there are two distinct categories of prayers. A Bracha, such as Hamotzi, may always be recited by a single individual on behalf of many others, on condition they hear every word and answer Amein. However, a Tefila like Shmona Esrei is much more limited, even though it also consists of a number of Berachos. Ideally each individual must say every word personally, and a dispensation to rely on another’s recitation is only granted to an individual who is incapable of saying it himself. Even then, one may only be lenient in the presence of a Minyan; hence the original source of our Chazaras HaShatz. HaRav Shmuel Kaminetzky shlita ruled that Tefilas HaDerech is a Tefila and not merely a Bracha. Consequently, he advised the Bochrim in Yeshiva that each must recite it himself, and not rely on a single individual saying it out loud for everyone. Of course, if it is not feasible for the driver to stop and look inside a Siddur and he cannot recite Tefilas HaDerech otherwise, hearing it from another is better than nothing. Especially considering that there are dissenting opinions.