Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
DANIEL CHAPTER 6
Darius the Mede conquered Babylon in 3389 (371 B.C.E.) and thus the center of power moved northeast across from Babylon to the Medean capital of Ahmatha (present-day Hamadan in western Iran approximately midway between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf ). Darius ruled for only one year before he was killed, after which the center of power moved again, this time to neighboring Persia, with its capital in Persopolis (near present-day Shiraz in south west Iran).
Our text (v 1) notes that Darius was sixty-two when he took power, from which we may learn that he was born in the same year that Nebuchadnezzar took King Yeho-yachin of Judah into exile in Babylon: thus at the very moment that Nebuchadnezzar was building his empire, God had already prepared its nemesis! (Rashi ad loc.)
Darius was another world emperor, although apparently somewhat mellower than the cruel, ruthless tyrants who preceded him. Our present chapter gives us something of a feel for the extensive governmental apparatus of satraps and presidents that was necessary to rule over this patchwork empire consisting of peoples of so many different cultures and languages.
Daniel, who had foretold the downfall of Belshazzar's Babylon at the hands of Darius and who immediately became the latter's favorite advisor, was appointed to supervise the entire apparatus, being placed above all the satraps and their presidents - which caused intense jealousy on their part. It is a sign of the balance of power that prevailed in Darius' regime that the satraps and presidents were not only capable of getting their own legislation passed (vv 8-10) but could even force the king to keep to their laws against his will (v 16).
Having failed to find anything incriminating in Daniel's personal conduct, these prototypical anti-Semites decided to catch him out on religious grounds by instituting a new personality-cult religion based on emperor worship that predated Roman emperor worship and Christianity by about four hundred years. The satraps and presidents of Medea legislated a new political correctness that forbade anybody to pray to any other god except the emperor.
Quite unfazed, Daniel continued the life of prayer that he had always followed both in his childhood in Jerusalem and ever since he went into exile. Three times a day he would face in the direction of the place of the Temple in Jerusalem , kneeling down to bless, pray and give thanks to God through open windows (v 12). This text is one of the main biblical sources of the laws of prayer (Berachos 31a) including the law that a synagogue should have windows (preferably twelve).
After Daniel was caught praying to the true God and thereby contravening the new law of Persia and Medea that gave the emperor a monopoly on receiving worship, even King Darius was unable to rescue his wise and beloved favorite from being thrown into the lions' den. Beside himself with worry, Darius could not bring himself to eat or sleep and rose with the first light of morning full of foreboding - only to find that Daniel was alive and well, sitting among the peaceful, entranced lions, whose mouths had been closed by God's angel (v 23).
This miracle was another tremendous SANCTIFICATION OF GOD'S NAME that lives on in a story that has been told and retold from generation to generation. The righteous were redeemed while the wicked slanderers who tried to denounce Daniel got their just deserts and suffered the very penalty they tried to inflict on him, being torn to pieces by the lions. [Compare Rabbi Nachman's story of Kaptzin Pasha at http://www.azamra.org/Essential/kaptzin.htm ]
It is a sign of the enlightened atmosphere that prevailed thereafter under Darius (as under Cyrus of Persia, who followed him) that Darius wrote to all the provinces of his empire telling everyone to revere the God of Daniel, Who "delivers and rescues and works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth." (v 28).
"There is no before and after in the Torah". The dreams of Daniel recounted in the present chapter are dated to "the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon " (v 1) which was prior to his overthrow by Darius the Mede who was the central character in the previous chapter.
Daniel is not considered as one of the prophets, yet his dreams and visions reach to the most sublime heights of the universe. The present vision beginning with the four winds churning up the great sea (=Binah, the Sea of Wisdom comprising the 50 - YaM - Gates of Understanding) encompasses the entire sweep of world history from the ascendancy of Babylon until the end of time and the rule of Melekh Ha-Mashiah.
A single stone lion is all that remains today in the ruins of ancient Babylon in Iraq to testify to the lost glory of that fallen empire. Many similar carved images of all kinds of fearsome beasts must have adorned the Babylonian capital in its heyday, and these would have helped make the imagery in Daniel's account of his dream of monsters even more real and graphic in the minds of those who heard them in his time and afterwards.
Rashi on verse 4 brings proof texts from Jeremiah 4:7 and 48:40 associating the first monster - the lion with eagle's wings - with the empire of Babylon itself, which in the time of Belshazzar was just about to have its wings clipped and get cut down to size.
The second monster, in the form of a bear, is associated with Persia - then in the ascendant - since "the Persians eat and drink like a bear and are wrapped in a thick coat of flesh like a bear" (Rashi on v 5). The three ribs in its mouth correspond to the three kings of Persia , Cyrus, Ahashverosh and Darius the Persian (Rashi).
The leopard (v 6) is associated with Greece , and its four wings correspond to the four kingdoms into which the Greek empire split after the death of Alexander of Macedon. The Greeks were compared to a leopard because they imposed a succession of evil decrees against the Jews that were like a leopard's spots, each one strange and different from the others (Rashi).
Daniel's vision of the fourth monster came in a separate dream on its own (v 7) because it was more powerful than the three that preceded it (Rashi ad loc.). Rashi and R. Saadia Gaon agree that the fourth monster alludes to Aram (=Edom, Rome) and that its ten horns correspond to the ten emperors up until Vespasian, in whose time the Second Temple was destroyed. Where these two commentators differ is on the identification of the little horn that came up among the others, which had "eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking great things" (v 8). Rashi identifies this with the ranting Titus, who entered the Temple Sanctuary in Jerusalem with a harlot before desecrating and destroying it. Rashi does not mention the empire of Ishmael (which is less than surprising when we consider that he was living in eleventh century France-Germany in what was part of the well-entrenched " Holy Roman Empire "). On the other hand, R. Saadiah Gaon - who lived a century earlier in Egypt and Israel and could witness the rise of Islam from close at hand - identifies the eleventh horn with Ishmael. In R. Saadiah's commentary on Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay (Daniel 2:40ff), he discusses in detail the complex interrelationship between Aram and Ishmael and their respective spheres of influence (see also Ibn Ezra on Daniel 2:39). Rambam (Letters) identifies the "mouth speaking great things" with the founder of Islam.
"As I looked, thrones were placed and the Ancient of Days sat." (v 9). The depiction of the heavenly court sitting in judgment over the world is the source of many kabbalistic teachings about God's providence, including the name given in the Zohar to the divine PARTZUF ("persona") of Arich Anpin, ATIK YOMIN ("the Ancient of Days"). His "garb like white snow" and "the hair of His head like clean wool" (ibid.) allude to the attributes of loving kindness and compassion that characterize the Partzuf of Arich Anpin.
One by one the successive monsters were cast aside, until the fourth was destroyed and burned up by fire. Their lives were prolonged only "for a season and a time" (v 12) until "one like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven and came to the Ancient of Days." (v13). All the commentators agree that the "son of man" is Mashiah (note that he is NOT called the "son of God"), who will receive "dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and tongues should serve him - an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and a kingdom that shall not be destroyed" (v 14).
"I came to one of them that stood by" (v 16): it was to an "angel" (=intelligent celestial being) that Daniel turned for an explanation of the vision. The angel told Daniel that in the end the kingdom will be inherited by KADISHEY ELYON, the "holy ones of the Most High" (v 18) - these are the restored, rectified saints of Israel .
As to when this will happen, our text is of course famously cryptic. Speaking to Daniel 2,300 years ago, the angel revealed that the eleventh horn would inflict many painful decrees and chastisements upon Israel "for a season and seasons and half a season" (v 25). Anyone who wants to speculate on how long this may be is welcome to do so, but those who believe with simple faith will take on trust the words of R. Saadia Gaon (ad loc.): "All the sages and commentators, including those with genuine Torah knowledge, have found no way to unlock and understand this calculation, and no one knows the secret except God, as it is written, 'For the day of vengeance is in my heart' (Isaiah 63:4). If the heart has not revealed it to the mouth, how would the mouth reveal it to a mere angel? We simply have to wait and hope until He will have mercy on his people and His city. Amen."
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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