Rationale for The Driver’s Prayer
Rabbi Michael Graetz
It is a part of Jewish tradition to recite the “Prayer for Taking a Journey” before undertaking a journey. This prayer beseeches God to guard our way and prevent accidents and disasters from overtaking us. It was composed at a time when most people did not travel at all and if they did travel, it was by animal, or in a vehicle driven by others. Travel was dangerous. Most of the dangers were natural and not in human control. Hence, the language and focus of the prayer are petitions to God to protect us from harm.
In our days most travel is in private cars. Each one of us is a driver. It is clear from most research into the phenomenon of road accidents that their main cause is “human error”. In order to reduce the inordinate amount of suffering and destruction which are caused by traffic accidents, the driver needs to be addressed.
The recent scourge of road accidents in Israel compelled me to compose a new “prayer for the driver”. I felt the need for a new prayer, which beseeched God to help us prevent disaster.
“The Driver’s Prayer” is meant to make us aware of our responsibilities as drivers. It reflects my theology, that prayer is always two-way, directed to God and to man. I believe it is time to start taking our prayers seriously. How can we complain that God does not listen to our prayers, when we ourselves do not listen to them? Therefore prayer must be directed inward to ourselves as well as outward to God.
The classic example in our tradition of such a prayer is the Shema, in which we exhort ourselves to “hear” our own affirmation of faith in God’s existence. The language of the Driver’s Prayer is written to reflect this theology, as I believe should be the case with all prayer.
We need God’s help in preventing bloodshed and mayhem on the roads, but we are the ones who have to “answer” the prayer and make safe driving a reality.