By Rabbi Berach Steinfeld
The posuk in Bereishis, Perek Mem Daled, posuk gimmel discusses the travels of the sons of Yaakov. The posuk states that it was the morning and that was when the shevatim loaded their donkeys and travelled.
The Gemara in Pesachim, daf bais, amud alef learns from the above posuk that one should not travel unless it has already become light and one should try to reach the city when it is still light. Rav Yehuda said, “Le’ol
The Rosh in Berachos, Perek Tes, siman gimmel writes that the minhag in Ashkenaz and in France was that one does not bentch gomel when traveling from city to city. One only needs to bentch gomel when traveling through the desert or the forest. The Yerushalmi, on the other hand, seems to contradict this Rosh as the Yerushalmi in Berachos, perek daled, halacha daled says that all roads have a chazaka of danger and therefore one is required to say tefillas haderech. The Tur in Orach Chaim, siman resh yud tes says the minhag of the sefardim was to say gomel even if just traveling from city to city based on the Yerushalmi that all roads have a chazaka of danger. The reconciliation of minhag Ashkenaz and Tzorfat (France) of not saying gomel, but yet understanding the Yerushalmi must be that tefillas haderech is said because every road may have danger and one needs to daven and say tefillas haderech to be protected. However, when it comes to gomel one has to be in an active danger zone in order to be able to recite the brocha of gomel.
The above Gemara in Pesachim that said that one must travel only during daylight needs to be explained according to minhag Ashkenaz and Tzorfat. We could differentiate between traveling from city to city and traveling in the desert or forest. When traveling from city to city there is only a danger at night since that is when the wild animals and robbers congregate, whereas in the desert or forest there is a constant danger both during the day and at night. Traveling in the desert or forest therefore requires a birchas hagomel.
The fact that the Rosh tells us to say tefillas haderech and not gomel when travelling from city to city because there is chashash of danger teaches us that tefillas haderech is said even if there is only a concern of danger. A desert or forest has a chazaka of danger and therefore we say birchas hagomel.
We can bring proof to the Rosh’s position from the Gemara in Pesachim, daf ches, amud bais that discusses a question posed to Rav. Rav was asked for guidance about people should do who live in small villages far from shul. May they go to shul early, when it is still dark and stay late after dark? Rav responded that it is permissible for them to travel in the dark; the mitzvah will protect them. If we say that traveling from city to city is a sakana, like minhag Sefard, then we would not say that a mitzvah protects the person as we find that if it is shachiach (common) to encounter danger, then a mitzvah does not protect him. This proves that minhag Ashkenaz and Tzorfat is accurate because the danger is just a chashash, not a common danger. According to minhag Sefard we need to say that Rav knew in that particular case that the roads were not fraught with danger.