Yaakov’s health changed from bad to worse and Yosef’s son, Ephraim, who often studied Torah with his grandfather, began to notice. One day, Ephraim came back with terrible news, “Grandfather is gravely ill! It seems that he… that he… I don’t want to even say it!”
Without wasting a second, Yosef took both his sons, Menashe the B’chor (first born) and Ephraim, and headed out to Goshen.
When they arrived, Yaakov gathered up his strength and sat up on his bed, in order to honor his son, the ruler of Egypt.
Yaakov turned to Yosef and said, “Yosef, my dear son. My blessing to you is that from now on your two sons Ephraim and Menashe will be considered just as my very own children – similar to Reuven and Shimon, they will be counted as their own tribes.”
Our Rabbis of old teach us that Yaakov was the first person in the world to become sick before dying! Of course, before Yaakov’s time people injured themselves, but nobody ever became sick and died. A person would sneeze once and that was the signal that his end was near.
Yaakov prayed to HaShem that from now on people should be given advance notice before they died. He wanted people to have the chance to say their final goodbyes to their loved ones, bless their children and repent before they passed away. HaShem accepted Yaakov’s prayer. When Yaakov became elderly and sick, he knew that it was time to prepare for his passing.
In Hebrew, we respond to a sneeze by saying LaBrioot, and in Yiddish – Tzu Gezunt. Both mean “to health.” Long ago we said, “Asuta,” which means the same thing in Aramaic, the language of the Talmud.
This is how we thank HaShem for not letting the sneeze become a fatal sneeze as it was in the olden days.
BTW: Did you know that if a person sneezes 3 times in the Netherlands, the response in Dutch is, “Morgen mooi weer,” which means, “the weather will be nice tomorrow!” (Go figure that one out.)