The Gemara on today’s daf suggests that the term “death” in the Torah may occasionally refer to other situations that bring one to be considered as dead. The four situations are:
- Oni – a poor person
- Suma – a blind person
- Metzora – someone who suffers from Biblical leprosy
- Mi she’en lo banim – someone who is childless.
The Gemara offers support for each of these from Biblical passages.
After spending time exiled from his home, Moshe is told that he can return to Egypt since all of those who desired his life had died (Shemot 4:19). The Gemara identifies “those who desired his life” as Datan and Aviram (see Bamidbar chapter 16). This is consistent with the Sages’ identification of all unnamed enemies of Moshe – e.g. the two fighting Hebrews (see Shemot 2:13-15) – with these people. Although we know that they remained alive they apparently had lost their property and become impoverished, and no longer had the ability to harm Moshe.
The Iyyun Ya’akov teaches that we find the idea that poverty is worse than death in many sources, since it is ongoing, painful experience. The Maharsha explains that the passage brought in the Gemara that parallels the experience of poverty to that of Adam, based on the passage in Tehillim (82:7), is to be understood as follows: Just as Adam was condemned to suffer in this world (see Bereshit 3:19), so too the Jewish people will suffer oppression and poverty.
The passage in Eikha (3:6) parallels blindness with death
When Miriam, Moshe’s sister, is struck with leprosy, Aharon’s appeal to Moshe to pray on her behalf suggests that she is in a situation similar to death (see Bamidbar 12:12).
When Rachel turns to Ya’akov and demands children, she insists that without children she will be considered as one who is dead (Bereshit 30:1).