Vayechi – Jacob, the man who transcended death
One of the most fascinating verses of this parashah refers to the passing of Jacob (49:33). It does not state that he died, but literally that he “fainted and was reunited with his people”. Although the text goes on to narrate that he was embalmed (50: 2-3), buried in the parcel of land where Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah and Leah had been buried (50:13), and that “the brothers of Joseph saw that their father had died” (50:15), the absence of the verb “die” in verse 49:33 has caught the attention of interpreters for centuries.
Rabbi Yochanan, a leading figure in the Jerusalem Talmud, who lived in the Land of Israel in the third century CE, taught that “Jacob our father did not die” (Ta´anit 5,b). This claim prompted Rabbi Nachman to ask: “Was it for naught that the eulogizers eulogized him, and the embalmers embalmed him and the buriers buried him?” Yochanan replied: “See the biblical verse: ‘Therefore, do not fear my servant Jacob, says the Lord, neither be dismayed, Israel. For behold, I am the one who saves you from afar; and your seed from the land of his captivity’ (Jeremiah 30:10). This verse juxtaposes Jacob to his seed. Just as his seed is alive when redeemed, so Jacob himself is alive”.
In Jacob the legacy of Abraham and Isaac was concentrated. From his children the people of Israel were formed. The faith of the patriarchs would be preserved and transmitted through them from that time forward. It is the people defeated by Babylonians, Romans, Crusaders, even the Nazi terror and is still alive. It is the people who did not die, in whom the vision of Ezekiel 37:26 is fulfilled: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; an eternal covenant will be with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them for all eternity”.