I will be traveling across the country by train for the first time in three years to attend the bar Mitzvah of my nephew. I intend to post some updates – a travelogue – of my journey along the way. I will be travelling, after this event, to visit my mother who will not be attending, because of a serious heart condition. If you feel inspired to contribute a few dollars for my travelling expenses, I would greatly appreciate your contribution.
While riding on a donkey, what is appropriate in regard to prayer? Specifically, for the Shemonah Esrei prayer? Anyone riding on a donkey would find prayer challenging, especially the type of prayer alluded to in the Mishnah, namely the Shemonah Esrei that is recited while standing. Yet, the Mishnah covers this, noting several options:
If someone else can hold the donkey while one is praying, this is acceptable. Although, a more authoritative ruling explains that because one is traveling, even if another person holds the donkey, the person praying will be distracted, worrying about the journey, so as to not have proper concentration; for this reason, one should continue riding on the donkey, and pray while doing so.
The gist of the Mishnah actually has to do with the requirement to pray the Shemonah Esrei, while facing Jerusalem, if living in Israel; or, facing in the direction of Israel, for those living outside of Israel. Thus, one should turn his head towards Jerusalem, while riding on a donkey. If one can not turn towards Jerusalem while riding on a donkey, for the sake of prayer, he should focus his heart energy towards the Temple mount. (Keep in mind that these rulings were recorded in the third century; however, the oral tradition predates the written accounts by at least several hundred years).
“Redeem, L-rd, Your people, the remnant of Israel, at every transition. May their needs be before You. Blessed are You, L-rd, Who listens to prayer.”
– Mishnah Berachos 4:4, sefaria.org
The Mishnah discusses fixed payer; and, the inability to pray a complete prayer, while walking in a place of danger. Fixed prayer, that is to say, prayer viewed as an obligation, whereof prayer may seem like a burden, and done only to fulfill an obligation is discouraged. For that type of prayer will not be sincere, as the person praying only seeks to relieve himself of what is considered a burdensome obligation.
In regard to prayer while traveling through an area that might be dangerous, it is assumed that the person’s mind is unsettled, hence, an inability to foster proper concentration. In this situation, a person is not required to say a complete prayer (e.g., the Shemonah Esrei). Moroever, there is not even a requirement to say Havineinu, a shortened version of the Shemonah Esrei; rather, an even briefer prayer may be recited (see above-mentioned prayer). Incidentally, I imagine that the reason the prayer is in the plural is because, prayers including oneself with others are more likely to be answered.
These considerations are made, for the sake of the safety of the traveler. Consider Moshe, who at the Sea of Reeds began to pray to H’Shem, when Pharaoh’s army posed a significant threat to B’nei Yisrael. To paraphrase the passage, H’Shem told Moses, now is not the time to pray; rather, I will deliver the people now. Certainly, in any given situation wherein imminent harm is at hand, the time would appear to be a time to act, rather than pray.
However, a brief prayer for deliverance is in total accord with what is right in the eyes of G-d, who would like us to put our trust completely in Him. At times like those, a brief prayer, like, “H’Shem, guard me against evil,” would be appropriate. The Mishnah, in discussing prayer here, Is only referring to traditional prayers recited on a daily basis, as opposed to impromptu heartfelt prayers that may be said at any time, in any situation.