Is Yaakov Avinu (our forefather) still alive?

When Yosef revealed his true identity to his brothers in Parshat Vayigash, he said (Breisheet 45:3): “I am Yosef (ha-od avi chai) is my father (Yaakov) still alive?”

In the Talmud, Taanit 5b, Rabbi Yitzchak quoted Rabbi Yochanan, stating that Yaakov Avinu never died.

This idea comes from the fact that when Yaakov’s death is described in Parshat Vayechi, Breisheet 49:33, the word death is not used: “Yaakov concluded his commands to his sons and he gathered up his feet, to the bed. He expired and was gathered to his people.”

The statement by Rabbi Yitzchak can be looked at as an allusion- the righteous are alive even in death- for their name, memory and deeds live on forever.

Why is Yaakov still considered to be alive as opposed to Avraham and Yitzchak who were also righteous, yet their deaths are specifically listed in the Torah?

Rashba points out that Avraham had Yishmael and Yitzchak had Esav, children who did not follow their father’s direction. Yaakov’s children all continued in his path and became the twelve tribes, therefore Yaakov’s legacy lives on forever.

Abravanel states that the fact that the Jewish people are named after Yaakov whose name was changed to Yisrael, makes Yaakov eternal.

Dudi Lapid of Yeshivat Kiryat Shmoneh explains that Yaakov Avinu lives on within each and every Jew. That would explain the song “Od Avinu Chai, Am Yisrael Chai”, “Our father is still alive, the Jewish nation is alive.”

The fact that the Land of Israel, and now the modern State of Israel are named after Yaakov keeps him in the consciousness of the Jewish people every single day.

Am Yisrael Chai! Od Avinu Chai!

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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