Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Where Are You Headed?
At the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei (28:12), Yaakov Avinu dreams of a ladder with angels going up and down. Rashi explains that the angels of Eretz Yisrael were ascending the ladder, while the angels of Chutz L'Aretz were coming down to accompany Yaakov on his journey to Charan. Similarly, at the end of the parsha, on his way back from Charan, Yaakov Avinu meets two camps of angels (machanayim) - angels of Eretz Yisrael coming to greet him and angels of Chutz L'Aretz leaving him. Why is it that at the beginning of the parsha, Yaakov Avinu is still in Eretz Yisrael - he is in Beit El - when angels of Chutz L'Aretz come to greet him, while at the end of the parsha, angels of Eretz Yisrael come to greet him although he is still in Chutz L'Aretz?
Perhaps the answer is that a person is defined not by his physical location but by his mindset. Although Yaakov Avinu was still in Eretz Yisrael at the beginning of the parsha, he was already thinking of Chutz L'Aretz. He was contemplating the long journey ahead and the challenges he would experience in the house of Lavan. He may have still been in Eretz Yisrael physically, but emotionally and mentally he was already in Chutz L'Aretz. That is why angles of Chutz L'Aretz come to greet him. But at the end of the parsha, Yaakov Avinu was still in Chutz L'Aretz, but he was thinking of Eretz Yisrael. He was dreaming of his parents' home. He was excited that his long, difficult journey was nearly over. And that is why angels of Eretz Yisrael come to greet him.
We find a similar idea in the realm of halacha as well. In the morning we recite a birchas haTorah, we learn a little bit, and then we become involved in different activities throughout the day. And yet when we engage in Torah study later in the day, we do not recite another bracha. The rishonim are troubled by this halacha. Why is Talmud Torah different than other mitzvos? If a person recites a bracha of leisheiv b'sukka when eating in a sukka in the morning, and then he becomes involved in other activities and returns to the sukkah later in the day, he must recite another bracha of leisheiv b'sukka. Why is the halacha different for Talmud Torah?
The Rosh (Brachos 1:13) answers that no new bracha is necessary when returning to the study of Torah because ideally a person should always be looking forward to resuming his Torah learning after he finishes his other activities. Certainly if one is working for an employer, he must concentrate fully on his job when he is at the office. But subconsciously, one should always be thinking of his Torah studies. So his involvement in other activities during the day does not constitute a hefsek, an interruption, in his learning. That is why there is no need to recite another bracha when returning to one's Torah studies.
This idea that a person is defined by his mindset also relates to tefillah. The Gemara (Brachos 30a) says, "One who is davening outside of Eretz Yisrael should 'direct his heart' toward Eretz Yisrael...One who is in Eretz Yisrael should direct his heart toward Yerushalayim...One who is in Yerushalayim should direct his heart toward the Beis HaMikdash...What emerges is that one who is standing east of Eretz Yisrael turns toward the west and one who is standing west of Eretz Yisrael turns toward the east."
Why should one davening outside Eretz Yisrael have to face Eretz Yisrael if he is already directing his heart toward Eretz Yisrael? Apparently, Chazal wanted a person to have a mindset of standing in the Beis HaMikdash when davening, no matter where he is located. That is why they required him to direct his heart toward Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash, and for the same reason, Chazal said that when davening, a person should even face Eretz Yisrael because that makes it easier for him to focus on the Beis HaMikdash.
While Chazal applied the concept of a spiritual mindset to Torah and tefillah, the idea is relevant to life in general. A person is not defined by his physical location, but rather by his dreams and aspirations. No matter where a person finds himself in life, no matter what situation he is in, it is his mindset that determines the kind of a person he really is.