Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
DANIEL CHAPTER 8
The text now reverts from Aramaic to Hebrew for the remainder of the book of Daniel. Chapters 2-7, which were in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Babylonian and Persian Empires, speak of Daniel's interactions with their rulers and the profound universal lessons they had to learn about how God deals with man "measure for measure". In the coming chapters the lessons are directed more specifically to Israel yearning for the rebuilding of Jerusalem , and they contain a deep PNIMIUS (interiority) that Hebrew is uniquely fit to express.
Daniel records the graphic external images of his visions, and then tells how angels come to him to interpret and explain them, thereby bringing him to the level of BINAH. We in turn must rely on R. Saadia Gaon, Rashi and the other great commentators who have come down to us to explain Daniel's visions.
The vision in our present chapter is dated to the third year of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon . His empire was on the verge of collapse, and we find Daniel in Shushan, which is located in what is now western Iran between Hamadan and Shiraz : it had been the capital of Eilam and now became the main center of the Persian empire .
This vision is the second in a series (v 1) the first of which was in the previous chapter (7). The imagery of these visions is in each case different, but the NIMSHAL - the object of the comparison - is the ultimately one: the great sweep of history until the "end of days".
In his vision, Daniel saw himself standing by OOVAL OOLOI, which some render as the River OOLOI, although R. Saadia says there is no river in Shushan and that this was the mighty gate of the city. OOLOI would then be related to the word EIL, "mighty one" - and this in turn is related to the word AYIL, a "ram", one of the creatures Daniel saw, representing the rising star of Persia . [One might add that the Hebrew word OOLAY means "perhaps" - i.e. PERHAPS our interpretations are hopefully not too wide of the mark.]
The classical commentators agree that the larger and smaller horns of the ram (v 3) allude respectively to Persia , the greater power, and Medea, the lesser power. Thus under Queen Esther's Ahashverosh , Persia extended "from India to Africa ", while Darius the Mede ruled for only one year before giving over the kingship to his son-in-law, Cyrus of Persia (father of Esther's Ahashverosh).
The goat alludes to Greece . The horn signifies Alexander of Macedon, who defeated Darius of Persia, who was Esther's son. Yet Alexander died at the very height of his power, and his kingdom split into four (v 8).
"And out of one of them came a little horn that became exceedingly great" (v 9). Rashi interprets this horn as alluding to Titus, and he takes the phrase in verse 10 - "And it grew great, even to the host of heaven." - to refer to his destruction of the Second Temple . On the other hand, R. Saadia Gaon sees this horn as an allusion to the empire of Ishmael (Islam) which took the land of beauty (v 9, =Israel) from the Romans.
"And for an appointed time it was flagrantly set against the daily sacrifice, and it cast down the truth to the ground." (v 12). Rashi (ad loc.) says this means that idolatry would be established in Jerusalem instead of the daily Temple offerings.
It is when the focus of the vision moves to Jerusalem, the heart of the world (BINAH), that Daniel hears a celestial conversation between the angels asking "How long shall be the vision. to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot" (v 13). As to the calculation of how long this will be as given in verse 14, Rashi (ad loc.) comments: "The seer was commanded to close up and seal the matter, and even to him it was revealed in a language that is closed up and sealed, and we shall wait in hope for the fulfillment of the promise of our King, even if one 'end' after another passes by."
The angel Gabriel is sent to explain the vision to Daniel - yet the explanation itself is so beyond him that he falls into a slumber until the angel touches him and brings him to his feet (v 18). Gabriel teaches "what will be in the latter end of the indignation, for it is at the end of a long time" (v 19). Rashi explains the "king of fierce countenance" mentioned in v 23 as referring to Titus, who destroyed the Second Temple , but R. Saadia Gaon explains this as a reference to the kingship of Ishmael. (R. Saadia also gives an alternative explanation relating the entire vision primarily to the struggle between Persia and Greece .)
We should remember that at the time of Daniel's vision the destruction of the Second Temple was over 450 years in the future and it was no mean feat to foretell how it would come about. At the same time, the vision is multi-layered, and just as history goes around in cycles, so the imagery can allude to multiple levels all at once.
Very soon after his vision in the previous chapter, Daniel "pondered in the books the number of the years." (v 2). This was in the first (and only) year of the reign of Darius son of Ahashverosh the Mede. (This was NOT the Ahashverosh of Megillas Esther.). Little more than a year after conquering Babylon , Darius the Mede gave over the kingship to his son-in-law Cyrus of Persia, who was the father of Esther's Ahashverosh.
Daniel had watched the fall of Babylon knowing that it had been prophesied by Jeremiah (29:10), who had foretold that at the completion of seventy years of Babylonian power, God would redeem Israel . At first Daniel thought that the building of the (second) Temple and complete redemption would come about seventy years from the time that Babylon had first subjected Israel to her dominion, which was when Nebuchadnezzar conquered King Yehoyakim eighteen years prior to destruction of the First Temple . It was only from the words of the angel at the end of this chapter that Daniel understood that the new Temple would not be built until seventy years after the actual destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in the reign of King Tzidkiyahu.
Daniel's response to the seemingly interminable exile was to PRAY. The Tzaddik repents for all Israel , and in his most eloquent prayer for redemption Daniel speaks in the first person plural, putting fitting words of repentance and supplication into the mouths of all of us. Many phrases and indeed entire passages (vv 15-20) are incorporated into the TAHANUN supplication as recited on Mondays and Thursdays as well as into many other penitential SELICHOS.
Daniel begins his prayer with the confession of sin (vv 5ff) expressing our deep shame and contrition over the misdemeanors that have led to our national exile. The prayer is designed to guide us to internalize the bitter lesson and moral of the destruction of the Temple and the exile, which came about exactly as the Torah had warned (v 13).
Daniel appeals to God's compassion, arousing the memory of the redemption from Egypt (v 15) as he begs God to turn His anger from Jerusalem .
With hindsight we know that the Second Temple was built in due course, but Daniel was praying eighteen years beforehand at a time when the satraps and governors of Babylon and Persia were no doubt gloating over the exile of the troublesome Jews and drumming in the message that they would never be restored.
Through Daniel's profound faith and earnest prayer he was "greatly beloved" (v 23) in God's eyes, and was worthy of ascending to the level of BINAH (v 22), for the angel Gabriel came swooping down from the heavens to further elucidate the meaning of the visions in the previous chapters and enlighten him as to when the Temple would be rebuilt. Rashi (vv 25ff) explains that the cryptic message of the angel alludes to the building of the Second Temple and its subsequent destruction by Titus, and how in the end he will be accursed and lost when the power of his empire is swept away by Mashiah in the war of Gog and Magog. Although the place of the Temple is occupied by a center of idolatry, this will endure only until the decreed day of its destruction with the coming of Mashiah.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved