The simple pshat in Rashi -- "ya'hiv da'atei lachzor" -- is that Ya'akov set his mind to go back to the makom hamikdash and daven there. R' Moshe Scheinerman, however, suggests a different, more creative reading. Ya'akov set his mind to go back to where he was coming from -- back to the yeshiva of Shem v'Eiver where he had been learning for 14 years. Ya'akov said to himself, "Here I've been immersed in Torah for 14 straight years, and the second I leave the beis medrash my spiritual antenna become so dulled that I can walk right past the makom mikdash and not feel anything!" The only solution would be to go back to the beis medrash and improve those spiritual antenna even more. We have to be so careful when leaving the makom Torah, no matter who we are and no matter how long we have spent there, to keep our spiritual sensitivity intact.
But let's get back to the simple pshat in Rashi. Why did Hashem wait for Ya'akov to realize that he had missed an important exit on the highway and start to turn around before intervening? Why didn't Hashem stop Ya'akov before he passed Har HaMoriah in the first place?
I am going to steal a story from R' Eliezer Eisenberg's blog post from last week:
The true story is that Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz used to spend Ellul with his uncle, Reb Avraham Jofen, in Novarodok. He asked him who is the biggest metzuyan in the yeshiva, and Reb Avraham pointed to a certain bachur. Reb Chaim was surprised, and asked, not the Steipler? Reb Avraham answered "You didn't ask who was the biggest lamdan. You asked who is the biggest metzuyan. That bachur is the biggest metzuyan, because he is the biggest mevakesh in the Yeshiva.
The story gives us the perspective to understand a yesod of R' Yerucham Lebovitz (in Da'as Torah on P' Braishis I think). When Ya'akov walked by the makom mikdash, he wasn't looking for anything, and so Hashem didn't come looking for him. Hashem does not ordinarily go out of His way to awaken people from their state of oblivion. However, the second Ya'akov realized his error, he became a "mevakesh" -- he immediately turned around and desired to be at the makom mikdash and to daven. When you are a "mevakesh" and are looking for Hashem, then Hashem reveals himself in kind. When you are a "mevakesh," then Hashem will even move mountains to help you on your quest.
Ya'akov's instituted the tefilah of arvis here. At first glance you would say that shacharis and mincha are far superior tefilos to arvis. There is a chiyuv to daven shacharis and mincha; tefilas arvis is a reshus (whatever that technically means). Yet we know that Ya'akov Avinu is the bechir of the Avos. How could his tefilah be the lowest rung on the ladder?
Rav Kook explains that it is precisely because arvis is a reshus that it is the greatest tefilah. When it comes to shacharis and mincha, the chiyuv is like a halachic gun to your head, so to speak. There is no choice other than to daven. When it comes to arvis, there is not that type of obligation. A person has to choose to daven arvis. A person has to be a mevakesh.