If what is really important is the number ten, God could have theoretically created anywhere from eleven to nineteen tribes, and we would still have had decision-making with a majority of ten. More specifically, we could have thirteen, counting Levi along with Ephraim and Menashe. That is why I believe that what is really critical is less the ten that ratify a decision, but the two that oppose it. As a close read of Biblical history shows us that two is the minimum required for successful dissent – meaning an alternative course that would not be stillborn. This is the case with Yehoshua and Kalev and even with Reuven and God. But much more important than either is the case of the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin, which maintained their own – religiously superior – kingdom for hundreds of years, while dissenting from the ten other tribes to their north.
In stark contrast, when a single tribe decided to chart its own course, it inevitably resulted in dismal failure. The most famous case is when the tribe of Binyamin singly stood up to oppose the other tribes’ efforts to discipline those responsible for the tragedy of the concubine savaged in Binyaminite territory. Likewise, when Ephraim attempted to stand up on its own against their perceived slight by Yiftach, they were also nearly wiped out. (Rabbi Eliezer’s lone crusade against the Sages with the Oven of Akhnai provides another interesting example in a very different context.) To read more at the Jewish Press, click here.