To Live Forever

When we are younger, we behave as if we will live forever. When we get older and reckon with our mortality, we approach time a lot more carefully and appreciate the preciousness of life. Death is something that makes us uncomfortable. Many avoid speaking about it and associate it with sadness. It is therefore fascinating that in our parsha this week when the Torah tells us about the end of Jacob’s life, it never says that he dies.

The Torah does not share all the details of the lives of our patriarchs and matriarchs, but it does tell us when they die. The Torah records the death of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and the Tribes of Israel, yet it does not mention the actual death of our Father, Jacob. Take a look:

Genesis 50:33
וַיְכַ֤ל יַעֲקֹב֙ לְצַוֺּ֣ת אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו וַיֶּאֱסֹ֥ף רַגְלָ֖יו אֶל־הַמִּטָּ֑ה וַיִּגְוַ֖ע וַיֵּאָ֥סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו׃
When Jacob finished his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and, breathing his last breath, he was gathered to his people.

Despite subsequent verses that mention his burial procession and a mourning period, the Torah does not reference his actual dying. Why not?

I’d like to share two answers that are advanced by commentaries to explain this anomaly:

  • Since Jacob lived an unusually holy life, he did not suffer at all when dying.
  • Since Jacob fathered the 12 Tribes of Israel that continued the values and traditions of their father that have lasted until today, in effect he never died.

Like our father Jacob, we may not be able to physically last forever, although living to 147 like Jacob would be a fine feat! However, when we connect to the values traditions and truths of the Torah transmitted to us by our mothers and fathers, then in effect like Jacob, they never die, and neither do we. May we merit learning and living the ways of our Torah and in effect continue to live on through our efforts forever.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Epstein
Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey
Community Scholar in Residence