Avraham ben Yaakov
DANIEL CHAPTER 4
In order to interpret yet another of his mysterious and terrifying dreams, Nebuchadnezzar felt obliged to turn again to Daniel, ".because I know that the spirit of the Holy God is with you and no secret is withheld from you" (v 6).
The essential moral of the dream is that man's pride - a trait associated with human MALCHUS, kingship, government, power - is an affront to God, Who brings down and humbles the mighty in order to teach them that everything they have is only His gift.
Nebuchadnezzar had ascended to the greatest heights as a conqueror and ruler of a world empire. He had built up Babylon as an enormous metropolis whose magnificent buildings were the very wonder of the world. But he said in his heart, "My power and the strength of my hand has made for me all this might" (Deut. 8:17). He had to learn the same lesson that we all have to learn: that no matter what we may have achieved, whether materially or spiritually, there is no place for vanity and arrogance because everything we have has been given to us by God not because of our own intrinsic worth or merit but only through His kindness and compassion.
The great tree in Nebuchadnezzar's dream with its beautiful branches and abundant fruit providing food for all, shade for all the animals and branches for all the birds, was none other than the king himself, who is the PARNASS - provider of livelihood and sustenance for all. Thus MALCHUS is called the PARNASS, source of PARNASSAH.
It was Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who revealed that the angel that came to cut down Nebuchadnezzar's mighty MALCHUS and teach him the lesson of his life was a manifestation of the soul and spirit of RASHBI - Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the outstanding kabbalistic treasure, the holy Zohar. In verse 10, "a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven", the initial letters of the Hebrew words, E-ER V-KADEESH M-IN SH-EMAYA NA-HEES, are an anagram of the name Shim'on (Preface to Likutey Moharan Part I).
To teach Nebuchadnezzar his lesson and humble his arrogant heart, he was to be literally cast down from his kingship and transformed into a beast living wild with the animals eating grass and moistened with dew. Stripped of his human intellect and sensibilities, he would have the heart of a beast for seven years.
The decree against Nebuchadnezzar is reminiscent of the similar decree against his counterpart on the side of holiness, King Solomon, who was tricked by Ashmodai ("Asmodeus") king of the demons into giving him his protective ring, after which the demon king banished Solomon from his kingdom forcing him to wander for years until he was restored (Targum and Rashi on Ecclesiastes 1:12; Sanhedrin 20b).
King Solomon recorded the moral of what he learned about the world during his period of humiliating banishment in the last work of his life, Ecclesiastes. Daniel spelled out the essential lesson that Nebuchadnezzar was to learn from his banishment here in our chapter, v 22: "You will be driven from men and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field. until you know that the Supreme God rules over the kingdom of men and that He gives it to whoever He pleases".
Ordinary citizens like ourselves should also learn from this that it is God who has appointed all of the world leaders of today, and He alone decides whom to raise up and whom to bring down. Instead of complaining about our "leaders" we should ask what we can do to improve things in the realm where we have influence: the spiritual realm.
Each one should also take to heart the existential message of this chapter to all men - for there comes a time when each one of us must meet our end, and the body goes back to the earth from which it came and the soul returns to her Maker.
Having interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Daniel advised him to redeem his sins with charity. The rabbis taught that Daniel was punished for advising the wicked Nebuchadnezzar how to save himself, because "Charity elevates a People (= Israel ), but the kindness of the nations is a sin" (Proverbs 14:34). "All the kindness that the idolatrous nations perform is accounted to them as a sin because they do it only in order for their power to endure" (Bava Basra 10b). Some say Daniel's penalty was to be thrown into the lions den, while others say that Daniel is identical with Hathakh (Esther 4:6 & 9) who was killed by Haman (Bava Basra 4a).
For a whole year Nebuchadnezzar gave charity to support the exiles from Judea, who had been reduced to begging (Rashi on v 24) but one time he heard the noise of the crowds of poor people he had agreed to support and he regretted not having used the money to embellish Babylon even more grandiosely. He decided to stop giving charity (Rashi on v 25), and: "At the end of twelve months he was walking in the palace. and said, Is this not great Babylon that I have built up by the might of my power." (v 27). No sooner had the words left his mouth than the decree as foretold in his dream was fulfilled exactly as Daniel had interpreted it, and Nebuchadnezzar was banished from his kingdom until he learned the truth.
According to the dating system of Midrash Seder Olam, Nebuchadnezzar had come to power in Babylon in 3319 (-441 B.C.E.) and ruled for 45 years until his death in 3364 (396 B.C.E.). He was succeeded by his son Eveel Merodakh, who ruled for 23 years, after which Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar's second son (Rashi on v 1), ruled for two years until 3389 (371 B.C.E.) It was in that year that Darius king of Medea fought against Belshazzar, killed him and captured Babylon , as recorded in the closing verse of our present chapter (v 30). Thus Babylon ruled for a total of 70 years.
Rashi (on verse 1) says, "We find in Josephus that Belshazzar fought against Darius the Mede and Cyrus (Darius' son-in-law) by day and conquered them in battle, and in the evening he made his great feast, and it was during the meal that his enemies returned and fought against the city and conquered it."
Nebuchadnezzar may have learned God's lesson, but he failed to teach it to his son Belshazzar, who at the height of his drunken jubilation over his imagined victory ordered the gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be brought out for use in his idolatrous feast.
THE ORIGINAL WRITING ON THE WALL
The mysterious message of doom that appeared on the walls of Belshazzar's palace at the height of the banquet was inscribed by the fingers of a frightening human-looking hologram of a hand. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b-22a) brings a variety of opinions about why neither the king nor any of the Chaldean sages, wizards, astrologers, necromancers or other diviners could decipher the writing. One is that the script in which the Torah scroll was written changed in the days of Ezra (which were now beginning with the demise of Babylon ) and no-one knew the new script. Other opinions hold that in any case the message was written in the ATBASH cipher (where Aleph is replaced with Tav, Beit with Shin, etc.).
It would appear that since the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel had been relegated to a position of lesser influence, but now while everybody panicked, the Queen (Mother?) suddenly remembered the divinely-gifted grace-crowned Daniel, who was summoned to foretell the imminent first stage in the collapse of Nebuchadnezzar's dream-image of gold, silver, copper, iron and clay as he had originally interpreted it (Chapter 2) - the fall of the golden head, Babylon.
Daniel rejected the gifts of purple robes, gold chains and rule over one third of the empire that Belshazzar offered him in return for deciphering the message. Daniel did everything not for gain but only LI-SHMOH, in order to sanctify the Name of God. Despite the fact that in speaking to Belshazzar he knew he was addressing another world autocrat no less arrogant and ruthless than his father, Daniel did not shrink from delivering his message of reproof and doom. After reminding Belshazzar of the forgotten lesson learned by Nebuchadnezzar, he says, "You his son Belshazzar. have not humbled your heart." (v 22). "You took the Temple vessels and used them to praise gods of silver and gold, copper, iron, wood and stone that do not see or hear or know anything, but you gave no honor to God, in Whose hands are your soul and all your ways" (v 23).
Each generation has to learn the same lesson again. The days of Babylonian supremacy had been numbered and were now complete. Belshazzar had been weighed in the scales and found wanting, and the Babylonian empire therefore broke in pieces as the ascendant star of Medea rose over the world.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved