Ever wonder why it was necessary to bless somebody after they sneeze? Then wonder no longer!
מופת רביעי מיום שנבראו שמים וארץ לא היה אדם חולה אלא אם היה בדרך או בשוק היה עוטש והיתה נשמתו יוצאת מנחיריו עד שבא יעקב אבינו בקש על זאת רחמים ואמר לפניו רבון כל העולמים אל תקח את נפשי ממני עד שאצוה את בני ואת בני ביתי ונעתר לו שנאמר ויהי אחר הדברים האלה ויאמר ליוסף הנה אביך חלה ושמעו הדברים כל מלכי הארץ ותמהו שלא היה כמותו מיום שנבראו שמים וארץ לפיכך חיב אדם לומר בעטישתו חיים שנהפך המות הזה לאור שנאמר עטישתו תהל אור
This section, which is taken from a midrash called Pirqei deRebi Eliezer (§52), contains a list of seven wonders that were wrought for various of the characters in the Bible. The first wonder was Abraham’s surviving being placed in a fiery furnace, which (according to a midrashic tradition) was where King Nimrod confined him. The second wonder was Sarah’s conceiving and delivering a baby at ninety years of age. The third wonder was in Abraham’s casting aside the appearance of great age, which is deduced from a midrashic tradition that has him appear physically identical to his son, Isaac.
The fourth wonder: from the time that the skies and the land were created, no man had ever been sick. Rather, one would be walking on the road or in a market when he would sneeze and his soul would fly out of his nostrils. Then Jacob came along and requested mercy for this. He said, “Lord of all Worlds, do not take my soul from me until I have commanded my sons and the people of my household.” It was acceded to him, as it says, “And it was after these things that he said to Joseph, Look: your father is sick” (Genesis 48:5). All the kings of the earth heard these things and they were astounded, for there had been nothing like since the day that the skies and the land had been created. Therefore, one is obligated to say “Life!” when somebody sneezes, for such a death has been transformed to light – as it says [in relation to the Leviathan], “Its sneezes flash light” (Job 41:10; v18 in English Bibles).
The fifth wonder was the parting of the sea for the Israelites, the sixth was the stilling of the sun and the moon in the days of Joshua, and the seventh was the recovery of King Hezekiah. None, however, are so great as this: that in the merit of Jacob, our forefather, God caused people’s souls to cease flying out of their nostrils the moment they sneezed.