EVEN YAAKOV’S BODY DID NOT DIE
June 21, 2013
Rabbi Shloma Majeski in #884, D'var Malchus, Moshiach & Geula, VaYechi, chai v'kayam

“Regarding the fact that “they embalmed” him – (this is because) it appeared to them that he had died, but he was actually alive.” That is to say that even his body did not die. * Source materials compiled by Rabbi Shloma Majeski. Translations are in bold. Underlining is the emphasis of the compiler.

Translated and presented by Boruch Merkur

On a similar basis, the Riff on Ein Yaakov comments on Rebbi Yochanan’s statement, “Yaakov Avinu did not die,” explaining how the spirit of Yaakov Avinu did not fully depart from his body:

“Thus said Rebbi Yochanan: Yaakov Avinu did not die.” Regarding Yaakov the Torah does not employ the term “death” – “and he faded and died” – as stated with regard to Avrohom and Yitzchok. Rather, it says, “he faded and was gathered,” meaning that the life-force of Yaakov’s Nefesh remained in his body; his Nefesh did not separate from his body [as is the case with the passing of other people].

Although Yaakov said, “I am dying and the L-rd shall surely visit, etc.” – he said this without knowing what will be [i.e., he did not know that he would live on after his histalkus]. He thought, rather, that he would die and his Nefesh would separate from his body as with everyone else.

Thus, Rav Nachman was perplexed: “Was it in vain then that they…embalmed him?” Since his Nefesh continued to cleave to his body, there was no concern of decomposition or infestation of worms in the body, for the Nefesh would guard him, just as the Nefesh of a living person guards his flesh and preserves it from rotting. Similarly with regard to Rav Nachman’s questioning why Yaakov was eulogized and buried: The main reason for burial is in order to facilitate the deterioration of the flesh. But since Yaakov’s Nefesh remained cleaving to his body, it would not decompose.

“Rav Yitzchok replied: I derive this teaching from Scripture … ‘behold I am saving you from afar.’” That is, were it not for this Scriptural proof linking Yaakov to his descendants [teaching that “just as his descendants are alive, so is he alive”], one would make the following supposition: Yaakov did in fact die. And the verse, “behold I am saving you from afar,” means that when the Jewish people suffer, the Avos suffer [with them] in the grave, but at the time of their redemption, Yaakov will be elated, rejoicing in [their] salvation.

The Scriptural connection between Yaakov and his descendants, however, teaches that “he too is alive,” for throughout this entire period, Yaakov’s Nefesh remains bound to his body. [The latter distinction goes well with the Rashi cited above: “‘So is he alive’ – for Yaakov will be brought to the Diaspora in order that his children will be redeemed before his eyes, as we find regarding [the exodus from] Egypt: ‘And Yisroel saw, etc.’”]

The reason why Yaakov was buried and eulogized is because he had lost the power of movement. Thus it states, “and he drew his legs up to the bed and faded,” as a person who faints and is immobile, like a rock that lies inert. However, they did not know that his Nefesh remained within him. Thus, they [erroneously] embalmed, eulogized, and buried him.

Nevertheless, it is said of the time of the redemption, ‘behold I am saving you [Yaakov] from afar,’” at the end of days. That is, your salvation [Yaakov] is destined [to coincide] with the redemption of your children, for indeed, you live on in Nefesh: “just as his descendants are alive, so is he alive.”

THE REBBE’S TAKE ON “YAAKOV AVINU DID NOT DIE”

The Rebbe speaks about this Gemara in the first sicha of Likkutei Sichos Vol. 26 (pg. 7-8):

The Gemara’s question, “Was it in vain then that they eulogized, embalmed, and buried him?” is answered with the statement, “just as his descendants are alive, so is he alive.” But it is difficult to understand how this answers the question.

There are commentaries that explain that the answer is intended to clarify that the statement “Yaakov Avinu did not die” does not refer to his physical life*; his physical life was indeed subject to death. Rather, “certainly this refers to his Nefesh [i.e., his soul lives on after death, but his body had died].”

According to this approach, however [saying that his soul lives on after death], the answer is still not understood: What is special about Yaakov that “[his soul] did not die” is stated specifically about him? The Nefesh of every tzaddik is eternal!

Certainly then, the innovation in saying “Yaakov Avinu did not die” is with regard to his physical life, something that is not said of other tzaddikim. Since Yaakov is identified with the attribute of truth – as stated in the verse, “grant truth to Yaakov” (Mika, end) – it is, therefore, obligatory to say that Yaakov’s life is eternal in all respects [for truth is immutable and eternal], even in the physical realm.

Thus the Gemara asks, “Was it in vain then that they eulogized, embalmed, and buried him?” That is, how can we say that “he did not die” physically when they embalmed Yaakov’s body? The Gemara answers, “just as his descendants are alive, so is he alive”: Since “his descendants are alive” (the survival and existence of the Jewish people is something that is eternal; there can be no interruption, G-d forbid, in their perpetuity; the children of Yaakov cannot be annihilated, G-d forbid**), therefore, “so is he alive,” because the “life” of his “descendants” is not something different than Yaakov’s life. (Rather, Yaakov’s life (and soul) is manifest (and invested within) “his descendants.”) In fact, the reason why “his descendants are alive” (in an everlasting way) is because “he is alive.” On account of the [eternal] life of Yaakov, the attribute of truth, there can be no interruption in the “life” of the Jewish people.

It comes out that Yaakov’s life is something that is everlasting even in the physical world.

NOTES:

*Footnote 66: However, in the commentary of Rashi (Taanis, ibid), “regarding the fact that “they embalmed” him – (this is because) it appeared to them that he had died, but he was actually alive.” That is to say that even his body did not die. (So it is inferred from Tosafos ibid. See also Iyun Yaakov, HaRif, Eitz Yosef, among other commentaries in Ein Yaakov there. See also Maharsha’s Chiddushei Agados ibid, as well as Likkutei Sichos Vol. 4 pg. 1260 ff.) This is elucidated in the sicha of Chaf Menachem-Av 5731.

**Footnote 71: See Bava Basra (115b, beg.): “It is taught that a shevet cannot be annihilated.” Rashbam comments: “A proof for this is the verse in Malachi (3:6), “For I am G-d, I have not changed, and you are the children of Yaakov, you have not reached the end [or in this context, “you shall not be annihilated”].”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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