Some time afterward, Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Until Yaakov’s time people never got sick. They would just sneeze and die when their life was over.
Yaakov prayed to Hashem that people should sense that their life is coming to an end and thereby, be able to make their final arrangements. His prayers were answered and he was the first person to suffer a terminal illness.
Yaakov sent his grandson Ephraim, who was studying by his side, to tell Yosef that he was ill.
(Yalkut Chadash s.v Mitah, Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer Ch.52, Tosefot in Baba Batra 16b, Rashi)
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