In the fifth grade class of my Jewish day school, we read a fascinating story about a Jewish boy who set out to find the Lost Ten Tribes. This story caused me to feel a great yearning for the rediscovery of these tribes and for the reunion of all our tribes. As an adult, I read a similar story, and it appears in the Art Scroll biography of Reb Shraga Feivel Menelowitz, a leading Torah educator of the 20th century. The following brief excerpt is from the chapter which describes his childhood:
“It was clear that Shraga Feivel was blessed not only with a quick grasp but an unusually sensitive soul...his rebbi told the class that the ten tribes of Israel had been exiled to a place beyond the River Sambatyon and would return at the time of the Redemption…the young boy began hatching plans for organizing an expedition to locate the River Sambatyon and find the missing tribes of Israel.” (Reb Shraga Feivel by Yonoson Rosenblum, pg. 28)
There is a tradition that the ten tribes that were exiled by Assyria are beyond the Sambatyon River – a mysterious river whose exact location is unknown. One of the classical sources for this tradition about the location of the ten tribes is found in Midrash Rabbah, where Rabbi Yehudah ben Simon states:
“The ten tribes were not exiled to the same place where the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were exiled. The ten tribes were exiled beyond the Sambatyon River, while the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were scattered in all the lands.” (Genesis Rabbah 73:6)
As we discussed, our nation split into two kingdoms after the reign of King Solomon. The ten tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin formed the southern kingdom of Judah. The following prophecy of Isaiah describes the Divine ingathering of all the exiles from Israel and Judah at the dawn of the messianic age; moreover, it indicates that the exiles from Judah were scattered all over the earth:
“He will raise a banner for the nations and assemble the castaways of Israel, and the scattered ones of Judah He will gather from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12)
The above prophecy also reveals that the Lost Ten Tribes – “the castaways of Israel” – will return home. The following is another related prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah that refers to the return of the ten tribes:
“And it shall be on that day that Hashem will thresh from the surging River to the Stream of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O Children of Israel.” (Isaiah 27:12)
“The Surging River” – The commentator, Radak, explains that this term refers to the Sambatyon River, and he states that another reference to the Sambatyon River appears in the following early prophecy regarding the exile of the ten tribes : “And He will scatter them on the other side of the River” (Kings 14:15).
The Prophet Isaiah adds: “It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come (together), and they will prostrate themselves before Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 27:13)
“Those who are lost in the land of Assyria” – Rashi explains that since the ten tribes were scattered in a distant land by the Sambatyon River, the Prophet calls them “lost.” According to Radak, they are called “lost” for the following reason: They never returned to the Land, even during the period when some exiled members from the kingdom of Judah returned to the Land and built the Second Temple.
With the approach of Shabbat, I will share with you a teaching about the connection between Shabbat and the Sambatyon River, or as it called in the Talmud, “the Sabbatyon River” (Sanhedrin 65b). The Midrash teaches in the name of Rabbi Akiva that this river is full of stones, and it rushes along turbulently during the week, hurling the stones about, but on Shabbat, the river rests (Genesis Rabbah 11:5). The commentator, Ramban, explains the connection between the name of this river and the resting of the river on Shabbat. Regarding the river, he writes:
“It is called Sabbatyon, because of its rest on the Shabbat day, for the Shabbat day in that language, as in Arabic, is called, Sabbat, and they add descriptive suffixes of yon to certain nouns.” (Commentary to Deuteronomy 32:26)
May we soon be reunited with our brethren from across the Sabbatyon River, and may we all be blessed with Shabbat Shalom.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
A Comforting Message for Shabbat from the Prophet Hosea:
In the following prophecy, the exiled tribes from the kingdom of Judah are referred to as, “the Children of Judah,” while the exiled tribes from the kingdom of Israel are referred to as, “the Children of Israel”:
“And the Children of Judah and the Children of Israel shall be assembled together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head, and they shall ascend from the land (of exile), for the day of the gathering of their seed will be great.” (Hosea 2:3)
“And they shall appoint for themselves one head” – All the tribes shall follow the leadership of the Messiah and ascend from the land where they live in exile to the Land of Israel. An alternative interpretation is that Elijah the Prophet, the forerunner of the Messiah, will lead them out of exile. (Commentary of Radak)
Note: For information on, “Reb Shraga Feivel” by Yonoson Rosenblun, visit: http://artscroll.com/linker/hazon/ASIN/RSFP