Shemot Rabba 21:7
brings down varied opinions for whom to credit the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. That Midrash credits Avraham Avinu, Yaakov Avinu, and Moshe Rabbeinu. Other Midrashim credit Yitzhak Avinu and Yosef Hatzadik. The other opinions notwithstanding, I'd like to continue along the opinion of Ribbi Akiva that credits Yaakov Avinu for the sea splitting. His prooftext comes from the verse
וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה, where ופרצת has a second connotation of "breaking open" and ימה has a second connotation of "sea".
This opinion is seconded by a Ba'al Haturim on Parshat Vayeshev
, which notes that the word ויגער appears twice in all of Tanach - once there
: ויגער בו אביו - where Yaakov Avinu rebuked Yosef, and once in Tehillim 106:9
וַיִּגְעַר בְּיַם-סוּף, וַיֶּחֱרָב [And He rebuked the Red Sea, and it was dried up]. The Ba'al Haturim concludes from this that it was in Yaakov's merit that the sea split.
The Ba'al Haturim ends by quoting a passage from the Zohar (Beshalah 53a)
, where the Zohar is bothered by the verse
: וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה בְּמִצְרַיִם, וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם, אֶת-יְהוָה since the verse starts off with the subject of "Yisrael" [Israel], but continues with the subject of "Ha'am" [the people]. If the subject of the verse is the same, why the change in description of the Israelites? The Zohar answers that the "Yisrael" mentioned at the beginning of the verse does not refer to the Israelites, but to the original "Yisrael" - meaning Yaakov Avinu, who himself went down to exile in Egypt. HKB"H brought Yaakov Avinu down to the Red Sea to see the redemption that was taking place for his children.
The Zohar continues and says that when Yaakov Avinu was going down to Egypt, he was worried that they would be eradicated there forever. HKB"H told him
not to worry. "I will go down with you to Egypt and I will surely bring you up again." The wording is וְאָנֹכִי, אַעַלְךָ גַם-עָלֹה - the double-expression tells us that 1) Hashem will bring his body up from Egypt for burial in the Land of Israel and 2) at the time of the Exodus, Hashem will bring him back to show how his children will be redeemed from Egypt. All this explains how the sea split in Yaakov's merit.
In addition to the Red Sea, we also have a Midrash that the Jordan River split for Yehoshua and the Israelites in the merit of Yaakov Avinu. Shir Hashirim Rabba 4:6
brings a verse in each of Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim as prooftexts to this. In Torah, it says
כִּי בְמַקְלִי, עָבַרְתִּי אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה [for with my staff I passed over this Jordan] and as Rashi points out
, he himself split the Jordan with his staff, paving the way for his children to do the same in his merit. In Nevi'im, it says
: וְהוֹדַעְתֶּם, אֶת-בְּנֵיכֶם לֵאמֹר: בַּיַּבָּשָׁה עָבַר יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה [then ye shall let your children know, saying: Israel came over this Jordan on dry land] and the "Yisrael" referred to there is also the original Yisrael - meaning Yaakov Avinu, who crossed along with his children, showing that it was done in his merit. In Ketuvim, it says
: מִלִּפְנֵי, אֱלוֹהַּ יַעֲקֹב [at the presence of the God of Jacob], meaning that the crossing of the Jordan was due to Yaakov's merit since his name is mentioned there.
In light of all this, we can perhaps say the following:
We know that the Future Redemption is in the merit of Yaakov Avinu. We know this from, among other sources, the oft-quoted gemara in Pesahim 88a
, where Avraham calls the Beit Hamikdash a mountain, Yitzhak calls it a field, and Yaakov calls it a house, and as the Maharsha explains there
, the first Beit Mikdash was in the merit of Avraham, the second was in the merit of Yitzhak, and the third, a permanent structure, will be in the merit of Yaakov.
We also know from the Haftara that is read in the Diaspora on the 8th day of Pesah that the prophet Yeshaya mentions a future path (as the Malbim explains
) for the return of the exiles along the seas and rivers just like what occurred at the Red Sea and the Jordan. If you notice, the verse there says
: וְהָיְתָה מְסִלָּה--לִשְׁאָר עַמּוֹ, אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׁאֵר מֵאַשּׁוּר: כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּיוֹם עֲלֹתוֹ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם [And there shall be a highway for the remnant of His people, that shall remain from Assyria, like as there was for Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.] Just as in the verses in Beshalah and Yehoshua, perhaps the "Yisrael" here is also referring to Yisrael Saba - meaning the original Yisrael - Yaakov Avinu, and it says עלתו, meaning "he" (singular) came up. And the verse compares the two redemptions, perhaps meaning that Yaakov Avinu is destined to cross the rivers and seas with us in the future as well just as he did back then across the Red Sea and the Jordan.
May we merit to see the day.
With thanks to the Tomer Devorah blog quoting R' Daniel Pinner for a couple of the sources quoted here.