By Stephen Kirschenbaum
At the end of the Parsha, Yaakov Avinu is finally returning to Eretz Yisrael and comes across a group of angels. Rashi explains these angels were the malachim of Eretz Yisrael. Just as when Yaakov Avinu left Eretz Yisrael these angels took leave of him, now upon his return, these angels came to accompany him back to the Land. The Ramban states this approach cannot be accurate, since Yaakov Avinu had not yet passed through the lands of Moav and Midyan and was consequently quite a distance physically from Eretz Yisrael.
As an explanation to Rashi bearing this contention of the Ramban in mind, the Divrei Yoel imparts a beautiful yesod about the general concept of Vayeitzei, of taking leave of a place, of being somewhere. He writes that although physically a person is wherever his body is at any given moment, nevertheless on a higher level and on a spiritual level, a person is where his mind takes him, where his mind wants him to be. While the person may not be physically there, one is deemed to be where the mind and heart strive to be.
Similarly, HaShem tells Moshe Rabbeinu towards the end of parshas mishpatim “alei eilai ha’hara, v’heyhei sham” – ascend to me on the mountain, and that is where you will be. The Modhitzer Rebbe asserts it is obvious that if Moshe ascends up the mountain that that is where he will be. Why have this seemingly superfluous language in the pasuk? The Modhitzer answers that often we may physically be in one place but our hearts and minds are really somewhere else. The place where our hearts and minds are focused is where we truly are. For this reason, G-d says ‘and that is where you will be.’ You will be physically atop the mountain, and your heart and mind will be fully focused there as well.
We find such a concept in the laws of techum shabbos. A person may not travel more than 2,000 amos on Shabbos, and nevertheless if on erev shabbos someone designates an eiruv techumin and his da’as (mind) is to be koneh shevisa (to acquire the place that he is residing for shabbos) at the location of the eiruv techumin, then that becomes his place. As a matter of fact, the mishna in eruvin states that even in an instance when a traveler did not designate an eiruv techumin, it is sufficient he have in mind and declare ‘yehai shevisasi b’tzad ulam ploni’ (I want my place to be where that tree is). In other words, where a person wants his place to be, that is his place. That is the place that halachically we view him as if he is there.
Along these lines, the mishna berachos 28b directs that one should face towards Eretz Yisrael when praying the shemoneh esrei and if he is unable to do so, he should focus his heart to the place of the kodesh hakadoshim. Where a person wants to be, in a sense is where he is. Eretz Yisrael is called the place that einei hashem elokecha ba, mairaishis ha’shana ad acharis ha’shana, that Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s eyes are on Eretz Yisrael and we too, if our hearts are focused towards Eretz Yisrael, it is as if we are there as well.
In reference to Tzion and Yerushalayim, Tehillim 87:5 states that the other nations say of klal Yisrael ‘all of you are born there.’ The gemara kesubos 75a explains that the verse is not only referring to those who were actually born in Eretz Yisrael, but also to those that have a profound longing to be there. Those people, with their heartfelt desire to be in the Land, are also considered to have been born in Tzion and citizens of Yerushalayim. Moreover, Rashi says in the end of days that the nations of the world will look at klal yisrael and whoever strives to be in
Eretz Yisrael will be referred to as ‘Bnei Tzion.’ The place where one’s focus, desire, and ambition lies, in a very real sense, is where the person truly is.
So, Yaakov Avinu was now heading back to Eretz Yisrael with his heart and mind focused on his return to the Land. He was eager to return even if he physically was a distance away. At that moment, the malachim of Eretz Yisrael approached him as if he was already actually there, since that was where he genuinely wanted to be.