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Thought for the Day: Yaakov Avinu Lo Meis

Talmud Bavli, masechta Ta'anis, approximately 2/3 of the way down the page on 5b, we are told not to talk while eating because you might cause your esophagus to go in front of your trachea.  Good advice.  Immediately afterward we have R' Yochanan telling us that Yaakov Avinu lo meis -- Yaakov Avinu didn't die.  Now you know why the gemara gave you a clear warning.

You might think you heard wrong.  After all, what about hespeidim, the embalming, the BURYING, for goodness sakes?!?  Old news... get in line; the gemara asks those questions.  "Whew", you are thinking, now we'll get some clarity.  R' Yochanan answers all those questions with one simple, answer: "I'm just telling you what the verse says."  Tosafos explains R' Yochanan's answer to be that the verse that discusses Yaakov Avinu's (apparent) demise, Sh'mos 49:33, does not say the word "meis" (as did the analogous p'sukim for the other avos).  Now I don't know about your shabbos table, but at our shabbos table the attendees had plenty of reasons why that word might have been left out and how can you darshan from an omission, and... and...  I felt positively tanna'itic as I responded, "I am just telling you what R' Yochanan is saying."

What does the gemara mean, though?  The Maharsha says it discussing Yaakov Avinu's immortal soul.  That is, he reads the attack questions (what about hespeidim, the embalming, the BURYING!) as rhetorical.  A tzadik, he reminds us, is called living even after death.  So what about Avraham and Yitzhok?  No problem, there is no thought that they may have suffered a spiritual death because they dies in Eretz Yisrael.  T'chi'as ha'meisim happens later in chutz la'aretz and the body has to burrow to Eretz Yisrael.  Therefore, I might have thought that kind of spiritual suffering after the physical death also applied to Yaakov Avinu -- the only one of the Avos haK'doshim to die in chutz la'aretz.

What about Rashi?  Rashi explains that R' Yochanan took the questions seriously and gave a serious answer: they must have thought he was dead.  And what does R' Yochanan mean by "Yaakov Avinu lo meis"?  He means, says Rashi, that Yaakov Avinu is alive forever.  Tosafos apparently agrees with Rashi's assessment of the situation.

What do they say in yeshivos about this gemara?  You see from Rashi an important y'sod: a good question never killed anybody.


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