“What would you want people to say at your funeral?” asked the rabbi. “That you were kind and generous? That you were intelligent and articulate? I’ll tell you want I would want people to say . . . ‘He’s still moving!’”

Jews don’t glorify death, even though we believe that there is glory after death. Instead, Jews celebrate life. So, long after someone dies, we continue to celebrate his or her life.

Even the Torah’s description of death can be viewed as a description of life. Especially the death of Jacob.

WhenWhat would you want people to say at your funeral? Abraham dies, the Torah writes, “And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life that he lived: one hundred years and seventy years and five years. And Abraham expired and died in a good old age, old and satisfied, and he was gathered to his people.”1

When Isaac dies, the Torah says, “The days of Isaac were a hundred and eighty years. And Isaac expired and died and was gathered in to his people, old and sated with days, and his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him.”2

And, finally, when Jacob dies, the Torah writes, “And Jacob concluded commanding his sons, and he drew his legs [up] into the bed, and expired and was brought in to his people.”3

There is something conspicuously different about Jacob’s death. Unlike Abraham and Isaac, who “expired and died,” Jacob expired . . . with no mention of his death! Rashi finds this omission most unusual. Why would the Torah leave out the most essential phrase in the verse— “and he died”!?

Rashi explains, “But no mention is made of death in his regard. Our rabbis of blessed memory said, ‘Our father Jacob did not die.’”

Rashi’s insight comes directly from the Talmud:

Thus said Rabbi Yochanan: “Jacob our patriarch is not dead.” He [Rabbi Nachman] objected: “Was it then for nought that he was bewailed and embalmed and buried?” The other (Rabbi Yochanan) replied: “I derive this from a scriptural verse, as it is said, ‘Therefore fear thou not, O Jacob, my servant,’ saith the L‑rd, ‘neither be dismayed, O Israel, for, lo, I will save thee from afar and thy seed from the land of their captivity.’ The verse likens him [Jacob] to his seed [Israel]; as his seed is alive, so too is he alive.4

Rabbi Yochanan posits that Jacob didn’t die. His colleague Rabbi Nachman counters, “Granted, the Torah doesn’t say that he died, but it in the subsequent verse it says that his children mourned for him, embalmed him and buried him. It’s implicit that he died.”

Rabbi Yochanan finally concludes the discussion by saying, “The verse likens him [Jacob] to his seed [Israel];5 as his seed is alive, so too is he alive.”

At first glance, the Talmud seems to be saying that Jacob’s children carry on his legacy, that he lives vicariously through them. As a parent, the most gratifying sensation is seeing children grow to be good people—and hoping that you had something to do with it. The gift that we leave the next generation is the values we transmit to them. When children appreciate their parents, the parents are alive in their children’s hearts even after the parents pass on. So “as Jacob’s seed is alive, so too is he alive.”

In addition, the Zohar says that all tzadikim, righteous individuals, are immortal. In fact, the Zohar says that “when a righteous person departs, he is to be found in all the worlds more than during his lifetime.”6 These unique tzadikim continue to inspire people on earth posthumously, and their influence grows as time goes by. This is because their spiritual energy doesn’t disappear with them—it lingers, and is available for anyone who feels connected to the deceased tzadik.

ButThe Zohar says that all righteous individuals are immortal there is something problematic about this understanding of the Talmud’s words. All of the patriarchs were role models for their children, and all of them were righteous and influential! And yet the Torah says that Abraham died, and it says that Isaac died. Only when describing Jacob’s death does the Torah avoid the phrase “and he died”!

If we had to encapsulate Jacob’s life into a single word, it would be “truth.”7 Unlike Abraham’s and Isaac’s children,8 all of Jacob’s children remained Jewish. Jacob’s life was so authentic that every child that he raised became a part of his truth. His offspring became a nation of truth. That’s why the Jew is indestructable. Despite vulgar anti-Semitism and extreme dispersion, the Jew lives on. Truth can’t be snuffed out—it’s immortal.

The Talmud says, “Just as his children are alive, so too is he alive.” If you want to know the secret to the longevity of the Jewish nation, look back at Jacob. The Jew receives the power of Jacob’s seed energy, the power of truth, and truth is immortal.9

But didn’t they bury him? Didn’t they mourn his passing? Rashi comments that it only appeared as if they buried and embalmed Jacob.10 In truth, he was “alive.” He body-soul connection was so true that his soul stayed attached to his body, even after his lifeless body was buried in the grave.

Because Jacob remained “alive,” his finger remained on the pulse of earthly happenings. The Torah clues us in to this unusual phenomenon of immortality by leaving out any explicit mention of his death.11

Some leaders remain immortal. I’d venture to say that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is one such leader.

The Rebbe’s passionate idealism inspired thousands of people to trade a more comfortable life for a life of service. Some of these shluchim, emissaries, live in remote areas, where raising a family is lonely and fraught with challenges. But the Rebbe captured their imagination, and they were inspired to make a difference in Jewish awareness.

What is inspiring these couples to sacrifice their personal well-being now, after the Rebbe’s passing? Chabad centers are growing exponentially, and many of the young shluchim never met the Rebbe.

Joseph Telushkin writes in his widely acclaimed book Rebbe, “How did this happen? How did it come to be that the Rebbe—who left behind no successor—bequeathed to his followers and to others that one sure sign of a modest leader’s success: the documented expansion and influence of his/her movement’s goals.”12

How did this happen?

It’s unlikely that people would dedicate their entire life to a legacy. To me, it seems that the self-sacrifice of the shluchim is inspired by immortal leadership.

“Perhaps the most unanticipated result of the researching and writing of this book,” writes Telushkin, “is the profound impact it has had on my life. Given that the Rebbe transformed so many people’s lives, it is perhaps not surprising that he has impacted the life of the biographer as well. In many ways.”13 Anyone who has been influenced and inspired by the Rebbe can relate well to Telushkin’s words. It’s the sense that the Rebbe is a part of our life, a personal mentor who stirs us out of complacency and urges us to do our little bit to make the world a home for G‑d.

This week’s Torah portion opens with the last few moments of Jacob’s life: “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years . . .”14 We call the Torah portion “Vayechi,” which means “and he lived,” yet the portion is about Jacob’s passing. That is, if he died. If he remained connected to his life here on earth despite his “disappearance,” then “vayechi”—(and) he lived! Jacob continues to live in the hearts and minds of his children here on earth.