When Joseph instructed his brothers to return to Canaan and bring their father back with them to the land of Egypt, he instructed them: Al tirgezu baderech, "Do not 'tirgezu' while traveling."1

The commentaries differ regarding the translation of the word tirgezu, which impacts the general meaning of Joseph's instruction.

  1. The simple meaning of the word, as explained by Rashi, is anger.2 Joseph was instructing his brothers not to engage in quarrels regarding who was at fault in his being sold as a slave—which would lead them to become angry at each other.
  2. The Talmud3 says that Joseph's instruction was: Do not study matters of halachah (Jewish law) and thus cause the way to become unsteady. I.e., intense study could lead to distraction and cause them lose their way.
  3. The Midrash4 maintains that it means: Do not refrain from studying Torah, so that you should not be injured on the way.
    According to these two interpretations, tirgezu means to tremble,5 and refers to the travel—the road will become dangerous ("unsteady") as a result of studying, or not studying, Torah.
  4. The Talmud6 also offers another view, that Joseph was instructing his brothers that in their haste to return home, they should not take unusually large strides, as this can be damaging to the health.7
  5. An additional interpretation brought in the Talmud8 is that Joseph wanted his brothers to only travel during daytime hours. This in order to avoid bandits and potholes, as well as to avoid suspicion that they might be going out at night for an untoward activity.
    According to these last two explanations, tirgezu translates as agitated (similar to anger). I.e., do not cause yourselves to become agitated on the way, by taking large strides or traveling at night.9

All of these explanations are correct—as is known that every word in the Torah carries multiple meanings.

Therefore, travelers should not study in depth, as this might cause them to lose their way; but they should study Torah in a manner that doesn't involve great concentration. This is because it is a mitzvah to study Torah at all times, as the verse says,10 "You should speak in them…when you walk on the way."11 In addition, travelers need extra protection, due to the dangers that traveling involves—and Torah study provides that protection.12

Passengers in a car, bus, train, plane, etc., can and should study Torah in depth, since it can't cause getting lost.13 In fact in-depth study is the highest form of study, and provides the best protection for the traveler.14

As for the restriction against traveling at night, it would seem that today, when people travel on smooth safe roads, this doesn't apply.15

Receiving "Shliach Mitzvah" Money

The Rebbe would often give money to people who were embarking on a trip, instructing them to give the money to charity at their destination, thus makes the traveler an "agent to do a mitzvah" (a shliach mitzvah). The Talmud16 says that "an agent to do a mitzvah is not harmed."17

Receiving a Blessing

Before departing from a city, one should seek the blessing of the pious men of the city. They should bless him by saying, "lech leshalom" ("go to peace").18

No Polishing Shoes

There's a tradition from Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid19 that one should not polish his shoes on the day when he is traveling. Some say that this is a symbolic reminder that we must prepare ourselves for our final journey well before we embark on it, and not wait until the day of death to repent.20

But I Forgot My Bag

Another tradition from Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid is that if one leaves his house to go on a trip and then remembers that he forgot something, he should not go back to get it. Rather he should ask someone who's inside to bring it out.21

The Traveler's Prayer

One who travels more than a parsah (approximately four kilometers) outside a city should say the Traveler's Prayer (Tefilat Haderech).22 This is certainly true if there are no houses or towns within that span. If there are other towns within that span: some say that the prayer need not be said; others say that since road accidents are the main traveling hazard today, the prayer should be said in any circumstance. In this case, it's best to recite the prayer without mentioning G‑d's name at the end of the blessing (i.e., "Baruch shome'a tefillah").

It's best to say this prayer while standing. But if one is riding in a vehicle, it's not necessary to stop the vehicle in order to recite this prayer. If the driver, however, needs to say this prayer, it's best to stop the vehicle so that the driver can properly concentrate on the prayer.23

It's best to recite this blessing immediately after another "long" blessing.24 Therefore one should eat or drink something, or use the restroom, recite the after-blessing and then the Traveler's Prayer.25

Click here for more on this prayer, and here for the (Hebrew and English) text of the prayer.

Prayer While Traveling

If traveling in the morning, one should recite the morning prayers before traveling,26 unless he's with a group (or flight) that will not wait for him. Although generally we don't recite the Amidah until sunrise, if one is traveling and will not be able to pray later in the proper manner, one may pray the Amidah after dawn.27 When one makes travel plans, however, he should try to schedule the trip in a manner that will allow him to pray at the proper time, before traveling.28

If one is traveling and the time for prayer arrives, if he is able to stand while praying the Amidah, that is certainly preferred. If this is not practical, however, he may pray while seated. If possible, he should at least stand for the parts of the Amidah when one bows29 and when one takes the three steps back and forth.30 If one is able to stand, but doing so will prevent him from concentrating on his prayers, it's better to sit.31 If one will arrive at his destination before the time for that prayer passes, it is better to postpone the prayers to be able to say them while standing.32 In any case, one may not pray the Amidah while driving.33

The Hagomel Blessing

One who traveled across a sea or desert should say the Hagomel blessing when he arrives at his destination.34 The blessing thanks G‑d for protecting him while he traversed through dangerous places. The following are some rules pertaining to this blessing:

  • According to Chabad custom, this blessing is recited even if the travel was in an airplane that crossed above the seas.35
  • Some say that the blessing should be recited after a plane trip even if no ocean or desert was crossed.36 The prevailing custom, however, is not to do so.37
  • This blessing should be recited in the presence of a minyan. It's better to say it after a Torah reading.38 If possible, one should try to receive an aliyah before reciting this blessing.39
  • If one traveled on a road that was not dangerous and he did not cross a desert, the Ashkenazi custom is not to say Hagomel; the Sephardic custom is to say it.40 If the trip was considered dangerous, he should say the blessing in any case.41
  • Ideally, one should say this blessing within three days of his arrival. This rule supersedes the custom of saying it after a Torah reading. This means that if one arrives from their trip on a Monday afternoon, he should not wait until Thursday's Torah reading to say this blessing, but should instead say it in the presence of a minyan anytime before sunset on Wednesday night.42

The Hagomel Blessing for Women

According to the Code of Jewish Law, women also recite the Hagomel blessing.43 Indeed, in Sephardic communities, women do say the Hagomel in the presence of ten men.44 They can say it while standing in the women's section of the synagogue, while a minyan listens in, or at home if ten men are present. In many communities, however, this is not the prevailing custom45—perhaps for reasons of modesty, considering that the blessing must be recited in the presence of ten men.46

Click here for more on the Hagomel blessing.