what do most rabbonim hold true about the sabatyon? is it a real place,and if so where is it? were the shevatim really exiled to that place, and if so how, since the sabatyon is a river, how can you exile people to it? also, why would hakadosh baruch hu not let us cross the river? doesnt hashem want us to be with our brethren? thanks!
Sarah Cohen, New York, USA
There are many classic sources which explicitly state that the Aseres ha'Shevatim were exiled to a land across the river Sambatyon (i.e. Bereishis Rabah 73:6, Rashi on Yeshaya 27:13), which is a real place. The Ramban, in Devarim (32:26, who calls it Sambatyon), explains that its name is based on the Medrash which states that the river is impassable during the week, and only on Shabbos are the waters calm. This is reflected, the Ramban says, by the word "Sabat" which means Shabbos in Arabic, and "Yon" which is a common Greek addition to a word. (The Ramban does not explain how the "M" made its way into the word).
Just because we have not discovered it, does not mean that it does not exist. For example, the Ramban writes (in Shar ha'Gemul) that the entrance to Gan Eden is also a real place, and actually records that Greek explorers once went there and were killed by the "Cherev ha'Mis'hapeches" -- "rotating sword" at its entrance. Suffice it to say, that if Hash-m does not want people to find something, there is no question He can make it so. As Chazal say, "ha'Kol b'Chezkas Sumin Ad she'Hakadosh Baruch Hu Megaleh Es Einehem" -- "Everyone has a status of being blind until Hash-m opens their eyes."
However, there are many conflicting Medrashim as to whether or not this was the only place to which the Ten Tribes were exiled, or only one of the places, or if there are two areas near Sambatyon where the Aseres ha'Shevatim live. Additionally, some (i.e. Tiferes Yisrael in Sanhedrin) say that the Aseres ha'Shevatim sadly might have assimilated. However, taking the Medrashim into account, it would only seem accurate regarding some of the Shevatim, not all of them.
Regarding the question as to why would Hash-m not let us cross the river, I think a different question would be more appropriate. When the Aseres ha'Shevatim were doing many serious sins, why did Hash-m merely exile them instead of having them killed, as he commanded us to do to the sinning nations who lived in Eretz Yisrael when we arrived? It is because Hahsem loves Bnei Yisrael, and treats them as if they were his children and close relatives (see Tomer Devorah ch.1 which explains the beautiful relationship between Hash-m and Bnei Yisrael, especially appropriate during the month of Elul). It is therefore a great kindness that Hash-m would grant them permanent exile (rather than have them killed) as an atonement for their sins, which were quite numerous (as is apparent to anyone who learns the Nevi'im).
The main thing Hash-m wants from us is to live a Torah lifestyle and do the Mitzvos. This will bring the coming of Moshiach, and according to many Medrashim, our long awaited reunion with our brothers across the river Sambatyon.
All the best,