The Gemara describes a meal shared by Rav Nahman and Rabbi Yitzhak (there were two amora’im named Rabbi Yitzhak who were students of Rabbi Yohanan, one of whom was proficient in halakha, and the other in aggada. As we will see, the Rabbi Yitzhak in our story is the aggadist, who was known as Rabbi Yitzhak bar Pinhas. It appears that he traveled to Bavel where he spread the Torah of the Land of Israel, and, in particular, the teachings of his teacher, Rabbi Yohanan.). Rav Nahman asked Rabbi Yitzhak to share some words of Torah, and Rabbi Yitzhak responded with a teaching of Rabbi Yohanan – that it is not appropriate to talk during the meal.
Upon completion of the meal Rabbi Yitzhak shared another one of Rabbi Yohanan’s teachings. He quoted his teacher as saying that Ya’akov Avinu never died. Rav Nahman reacted with shock: How could it be that the Torah records the eulogies said over Jacob and describes his eventual burial in the Land of Israel, along with the related preparations, if he never died?! Rabbi Yitzhak simply brings a passage from Yirmiyahu (30:10) in which God tells Jacob that he need not fear, for both he and his descendants would be saved, interpreting it to mean that both the Jewish people, and their forefather Jacob, are alive.
Even with the pasuk in Yirmiyahu, the statement that Ya’akov Avinu did not die deserves an explanation. Some commentaries (the Ri”af, for example) suggest that Jacob fainted away and was in a comatose state, and only upon his return for burial in Israel did he die. Nevertheless, this does not appear to be the intention of Rabbi Yitzhak’s teaching. Most likely, the statement “Ya’akov Avinu never died” has mystical significance, something that Rav Nahman at first did not understand. One explanation is put forward by the Rashba, who suggests that the statement points to the fact that unlike Abraham and Isaac, both of whom had one son who was chosen and another who was rejected, all of Jacob’s children continued with his covenant with God. In this way, his legacy – and, indeed, he himself – never died.