Thursday, January 1, 2015

Parsha: Did Yaakov Ever Die?

Rav Turetsky

The Torah never explicitly states that Yaakov passed away (Breishit 49:33).[1] Chazal note this omission, which leads the Gemara (Ta’anit 5b) to comment that Yaakov never died. This is a difficult Gemara to accept at face value, especially as the Torah explicitly describes his burial and the mourning that ensued following his passing.

Siftei Chachamim (ad loc) writes that Yaakov died, but he experienced no pain while passing away. Maharal (Gur Aryeh ad loc) explains that Yaakov lives spiritually, connected with God forever. For a variety of Rishonim, the Talmud should be understood through Kabbalistic idea and principles.[2]

What follows are two suggestions hat may offer important lessons.[3]

1. Rashba (Chiddushei Haggadot Ta’anit 5b) offers a simple suggestion. Yaakov lives on because all his children were connected to Torah. According to this approach, what enabled Yaakov to live forever (figuratively) was his descendants’ commitment to living a life inspired by Torah.

2. Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Parshat Ma’asei) offers an interesting insight into this Chazal.[4] Yaakov is typically associated with truth. Chazal wish to convey the idea that truth lasts forever. There are many frivolities in life, often tempting and always fleeting. What ultimately endures forever is that which is predicated on objective truth.

Rashba reminds us how the choices we make in our lives give meaning to those who came before us. Just as Yaakov lives on because of the way his children lived their lives, our ancestors continue to be memorialized through the choices we make in our lives. Degel Machaneh Ephraim highlights an alternate idea. If we ourselves want to “live on forever”, the way to accomplish this is through a strong and firm commitment to truth. Our ultimate legacy is a life of truth, empowered by the values of those who came before us, and continued by offspring who perpetuate those values.

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] This is not entirely precise. See Ramban (ad loc) who notes several pesukim that imply Yaakov in fact died.
[2] This is the view of Ramban (ad loc) and Rabbainu Bechai (ad loc ). See Rav Chavel’s edition of the Ramban for a discussion of the Kabbalistic idea. Rabbainu Bechai describes at greater length the Kabbalah, which is typical of his commentary, in particular when compared to Ramban.
[3] R. Gil Student published a collection of twenty different explanations to this Gemara ( The final suggestion found here is not mentioned by R. Student.
[4] See Ba’al Shem Tov al haTorah to Parshat Vayichi, with notes Mekor Mayim Chaim (ad loc).

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