In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the Torah informs us that the Jewish people left Egypt with weapons. The word for weapons is “Vchamushim”. Rashi quotes the midrash that the word “Vachamushim’ is related to the word “Chamesh – five”. The rabbis teach us that only one out of every five Jews – 20% - left Egypt. The other 80% were lost – they died during the plague of darkness because they did not want to leave Egypt. They were so assimilated into the Egyptian society and wanted no part of the Jewish people. So, G-d fulfilled their wish, and they had no part in the Jewish future. Not only that, but G-d also did not let them live to fulfill their dream of being a part of Egyptian society.
Now, the Torah teaches us that the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus numbered about 600,000 men between the ages of 20 and 60. If we count the wives of those 600,000, their children under the age of twenty and everybody over the age of sixty, we can fairly estimate that there must have been about 3 million Jews who left Egypt. That means that 12 million did not leave with them. What an astounding number!
Unfortunately, our long history has been one of staggering numbers of losses. We read in the Book of Kings that 9 & ½ of the 12 tribes were exiled to Assyria. By the time of the destruction of the 1st Bais Hamikdash some 140 years later, those tribes had disappeared. That’s ¾ of the tribes – not a small number of people.
How many thousands of Jews – Marranos - were absorbed into Spain after the inquisition in 1492? How many Jews converted to Christianity during the crusades in the Middle Ages? How many Jews converted away or assimilated into Western European society during the 19th and early 20th centuries? How many Jews have been lost on the American scene?
Unfortunately, the epidemic of lost Jews has continued until today – both in non-religious families and in religious families. It is a sad commentary but for some reason we have a difficult time holding onto our people. Sometimes it is our fault. On other occasions, we have lost our co-religionists through no fault of our own. In 19th and 20th century Russia, Jewish children were forcibly taken from their parents and conscripted into the Russian army for 25 years, losing their Jewish identities in the process. Nowadays in America, the lure of society can be too much for many youngsters to resist.
The Prophet Isaiah teaches us, “and those who are lost in the Land of Assyria and those who are pushed away in the land of Egypt, and they will come and bow down on the holy mountain, Jerusalem.” The Talmud in Sanhedrin teaches us an opinion that the Ten Lost Tribes will eventually return to the Jewish people – as unlikely as it seems. Somehow, Jews will eventually find their way back home.
We have seen so many unbelievable stories - from the Jews of Ethiopia to Russia to America and more – Jews seemingly hopelessly lost who have returned home through an internal GPS.
Rabbi Tzadok Hakohein of 19th century Lublin explains that the verse, “– and those lost in the land of Assyria” - is not only a reference to the Jews of Assyria and Egypt.
The word for Assyria – “Ashur” also means plenty and the word for Egypt – Mitzraim - is derived from the word “Tzarah” – trouble or affliction. Rabbi Tzadok explains that Jews lost in the land of plenty – in our days that is America – and Jews lost in lands of affliction – for example, Russia – will return and be participants in the greatest show on earth.
But, we cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch this spectacle unfold. We also must attempt to participate in bringing back Jews – as far-fetched as a situation might seem. We must show others the eye chart, hoping that they will recognize something from Judaism – or at least stir up a craving from their soul. We will then help fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah – bringing back those lost in the land of plenty – and together fulfill the conclusion of the prophecy, “and they will bow down to G-d on the holy mountain, Jerusalem.”