We previously discussed the Divine promise to our mother, Rachel, regarding the physical and spiritual return of her children. In this letter, we shall begin to discuss the return of a major segment of her children known as, “The Lost Ten Tribes”:
Our father, Yaakov, was given the additional name “Yisrael” – Israel (Genesis 35:10); moreover, his twelve sons became the founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. When Yaakov blessed his sons at the end of his life, he indicated that the monarchy would emerge from the Tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10). This blessing was fulfilled centuries later when David became King of all the Tribes of Israel. King Solomon, the son of King David, ruled over all the Tribes of Israel in an era of peace, and it was he who built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There is a mitzvah for all the tribes to go on a unifying pilgrimage to the Sanctuary for the following three festivals: Passover, Shavuos, and Succos (Deuteronomy 16:16). In the era of Solomon, all the tribes would fulfill this unifying mitzvah by journeying to the Temple in Jerusalem.
After King Solomon passed away, ten tribes broke away to form the northern kingdom of Israel. The most influential of the ten tribes was Ephraim, and the leader of the secessionist kingdom of the ten tribes was Jerabam ben Nebot, a member of the Tribe of Ephraim. Due to the influence of this tribe, “Ephraim” became one of the names of the northern kingdom. (The founder of this influential tribe was Ephraim, a son of Yosef; thus, this tribe is occasionally referred to as Yosef.) The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the dynasty of King David, and these two tribes formed the southern kingdom of Judah.
Within Judah, which contained Jerusalem, were many members of the Tribe of Levi – a tribe which was dedicated to the teaching of Torah and to the Temple service (Deuteronomy 33:10). The Tribe of Levi included the Kohanim, the descendants of Aharon, who had a special priestly role in the Temple service, and who also blessed the people daily. When Jerabam ben Nebot formed the northern kingdom of the ten tribes, he dismissed the Kohanim and the Levites in his kingdom from their posts; moreover, he did not allow them to serve in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As a result, the Kohanim and the Levites who lived among the ten tribes moved to Judah. (II Chronicles 11:13-15, with the commentary of Metzudas David)
Both the northern kingdom, known as Ephraim, and the southern kingdom, known as Judah, had more than one tribe. This can help us to understand a prophecy of the Prophet Ezekiel, where he refers to the southern kingdom as Judah and his companions (Ezekiel 37:16), and he refers to the northern kingdom as Yosef/Ephraim and his companions (ibid).
As we discussed in this series, we were given the Land of Zion in order to fulfill the Torah, the Divine Teaching, and thereby become a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6); thus, Moshe and the other prophets told our people that if we failed to fulfill the Torah, we would go into exile. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom were rapidly abandoning the Torah, despite the warnings of various prophets of Hashem that their behavior would lead to exile. They ignored the Divine warnings, and their fate was sealed. When the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, the ten tribes went into exile, and when their exact whereabouts were no longer known, they were referred to as, “The Lost Ten Tribes.” The people of Judah also began to abandon the Torah, and they were given warnings by the prophets of Hashem. And when they kept ignoring the warnings, their fate was sealed. After the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the people of Judah went into exile. After seventy years, they were given permission to return and build the Second Temple; however, only a minority of the people returned. The second Temple lasted until the Romans destroyed it and the people of Judah went into exile, where they became scattered among the nations.
In the previous letter, we discussed the comforting Divine promise to Rachel regarding the return of her exiled children, and the promise concludes with the following words:
“There is hope for your future, spoke Hashem, and your children will return to their border” (Jeremiah 31:16).
Does this Divine promise regarding the return of Rachel’s children include the lost ten tribes? Yes, states the Malbim, a noted biblical commentator, for they will return in the “End of Days” – a biblical term for the messianic age. The Malbim’s explanation is based on prophecies within our Sacred Scriptures which describe the future return of the ten tribes. For example, within the prophecy of Ezekiel that we mentioned above, we find a comforting message about the future reunion of the tribes of the northern kingdom with the tribes of the southern kingdom at the dawn of the messianic age, when “all” the tribes will return to Zion. The following are excerpts from this comforting prophecy of Ezekiel:
The word of Hashem came to me, saying, “Now you, son of humankind, take for yourself one piece of wood and write upon it, ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions’; and take one piece of wood and write upon it, ‘For Yosef, the wood of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ Then bring them close to yourself, one to the other, like one piece of wood, and they will become united in your hand. Now when the children of your people will say to you, ‘Will you not explain to us what these things mean to you,’ say to them:
‘Thus said the Master of All, Hashem/God: Behold, I am taking the wood of Yosef, which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel, his companions, and I am placing them and him with the wood of Judah; and I will make them into one piece of wood, and they will become one in My hand.’
The pieces of wood upon which you will write shall be in your hand, before their eyes. Say to them:
‘Thus said the Master of All, Hashem/God: Behold, I am taking the Children of Israel from among the nations to which they have gone; I will gather them from all around and I will bring them to their soil; I will make them into one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and one king will be a king for them all; they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms again. They will no longer be impure with their idols and with their abhorrent things and with all their sins. I will save them from all the dwelling places in which they had sinned, and I will purify them; they will be a people unto Me, and I will be God to them…They will follow My social laws and guard My statutes and fulfill them.’ ” (Ezekiel 37:15-24)
The above prophecy concludes with the following words of Hashem:
“I will seal a covenant of shalom with them; it will be an eternal covenant with them; and I will emplace them and increase them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be among them; I will be God to them, and they will be a people unto Me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary will be among them forever.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
“My dwelling place will be among them” – I will place My Shechinah among them (Targum).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. Chapter 48 of the Book of Ezekiel describes the division of the Land of Israel among the Twelve Tribes of Israel during the messianic age. This is another indication that the ten tribes will return. (An introductory reference to this future division of the Land among the Twelve Tribes appears in Chapter 47, Verse 13.)
2. Within the southern Kingdom of Judah, there were also a number of residents from the ten tribes. Some had settled in the cities of Judah before the split occurred (I Kings 12:17). The Talmud also cites the tradition that after the ten tribes went into exile, the Prophet Jeremiah brought some of them back to Judah, during the reign of King Josiah (Megillah 14b).
3. According to our tradition, our national identity is passed down through the mother, and our tribal identity is passed down through the father. Due to the suffering and wandering of the exile, the majority of our people did not preserve their exact tribal identity; thus, they called themselves by the general name, “Yisrael” – Israel.
The one exception was the Tribe of Levi, including the Kohanim, as most of the members of this tribe managed to pass on their tribal identity from generation to generation. In our age, when many Jews have assimilated among the nations, there are some families of Kohanim and Levites who are unaware of their tribal identity.
We have a tradition that all the members of our people will rediscover their tribal identity at the dawn of the messianic age, and a reference to this tradition appears on the following commentary of Rakak on Ezekiel 47:23:
At the dawn of the messianic age, when the People of Israel go out of exile, Elijah the Prophet will reveal to each one of them their tribal identity.