Light penetrates the windows of a small brick hut and illuminates a group of African men dressed in white swaying. One shuts his eyes and shouts with a heavy Hebrew accent: “Oseh shalom!”
“Hallelujah!” the crowd responds.
He sings out again: “Oseh shalom!”
All of them together answer, “Hallelujah, making peace in its heights.”
As such, the Igbo people pray together with the sounds of longing in their voices for the Land of Israel.
The Igbo tribe lives in the Biafra region of South-Eastern Nigeria and is estimated to number some 20 million. Tens of thousands of these identify themselves as Jews for all intents and purposes. A significant number of the Igbo tribe are observant Jews, practice circumcision, read the Torah, wear yarmulkes and prayer shawls.
Throughout the generations, many indigenous tribes and ethnic groups from every continent have been identified as possible descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes who were exiled after the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by Assyria in 722 BCE, and their fate remains unknown to this very day. Could the Igbo tribe and other groups be part of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel? How could we possibly determine which among these are Jews?
Can symbols, rituals, and customs definitively indicate that a person or tribe is Jewish? In order to trace Jewish roots, must historians and geneticists intervene, as well as authorities to deliberate on religious matters? The wisdom of Kabbalah views the answer to the question, “Who is a Jew?” from a deeper perspective that demands us to look back to the kingdom of ancient Babylon, to the cradle of humanity at the time, where Jewishness began.
About 3,800 years ago in Mesopotamia, which was a bountiful region located in today’s Iraq, humanity began to live side by side in brotherhood with a sense of shared destiny, like one great universal family. Without aspiring to great conquests, the pagan society of those days satisfied the small desires of its members for a peaceful life, shelter, and basic food. They established a thriving agricultural society that persisted undisturbed, as a single body.
Suddenly life changed in Babylon. The desire to receive pleasure, “egoism,” naturally began to grow and develop, demanding ever greater pleasures from life. Growing egos began to clash causing separation, urging each to view the other only in terms of their personal benefit, even if it came at another’s expense.
Troubled by the disintegration of society, a Babylonian priest named Abraham began to earnestly investigate why the Babylonians had stopped loving one another. In the process of his exploration, he discovered the natural system that connects all people under the management of a single enveloping force: love. He discovered that the root of human hatred lies in the ego’s development and its imbalance.
Abraham understood that in order to balance the negative power of egoism, it is necessary to awaken this positive force of love and connection inherent to nature. In other words, the common effort to build good relationships despite and atop egoistic rejection opens up a new spiritual space between people within which a sense of wholeness and harmony is found. Abraham’s brilliant discovery and the way to realize it was compiled as the wisdom of Kabbalah. Excited by his breakthrough, Abraham embarked on an extensive campaign to spread the wisdom among all the inhabitants of ancient Babylon.
As Rambam explained, tens of thousands came to the land of Israel from all the tribes and clans, representing all 70 nations of the world, and formed the foundation for the building of the Israeli nation. The rest of the ancient inhabitants of Babylon spread throughout the earth and developed into approximately 70 nations.
The Jewish people are not a people like other nation, founded on the common denominators of residential area, family relations, origin or color. The followers of Abraham were instead a conglomeration of different people whose one common denominator was a shared ideological basis. This special group would later be called “Israel,” which is derived from the phrase “Yashar-El” (Straight to God), i.e. a desire directed straight to the power that manages reality.
Since then and throughout history, anyone who joined Israel on the basis of the same unifying principle was warmly welcomed. French, Italian, African, Japanese—anyone in the world—was and could be a Jew. Kabbalah explains that the Jewish people is not a nation like the 70 nations of the world. Jewishness is an ideology, a person’s attitude toward others. Although Jews have lived and married among themselves as a relatively small group over the generations and have acquired a similar external form, when the Ten Lost Tribes are revealed, it will not be the genes that will bind us, but the ideology. The external form of the Lost Tribes will surely appear different from who we see today as Jews, but between all of them will be a spirit of mutual solidarity combined with the love of Zion.
The awakening and manifestation of the Ten Lost Tribes depends on the awakening of the Jews themselves. As the Jews become more and more connected, their unity will be projected throughout the network of connection that binds together all life and this will make the tribes emerge from their hiding places. At the same time, Jewish unity will build a kind of “womb,” an environment capable of absorbing the Ten Lost Tribes, to which they will be born.
As you read these lines, dear reader, and if you want to feel the single force that operates in creation, Bnei Baruch, our worldwide organization teaching the ancient wisdom of Kabbalah, warmly welcomes all those yearning to know the meaning of life through our connection as one human family.