Daniel (3304-3399 / 457-362 BCE) was a celebrated Jewish
scholar and master interpreter of dreams who was exiled to Babylon after the
destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He is famous for successfully
interpreting the proverbial “writing on the wall” and miraculously surviving
the lions’ den. His book is included in the canon of sacred Jewish
The Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Land of Judea in 3319
(442 BCE) and destroyed
the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As was the standard practice of
invading rulers, Nebuchadnezzar deported the
Jewish intelligentsia and forced them to relocate to Babylon. Among them were
Mishael and Azaryia (from the tribe of Judah), all extraordinarily gifted young princes,
selected to serve as chamberlains in the royal court. Under the
tutelage of the chief officer, Daniel, who was already an accomplished scholar,
achieved remarkable proficiency and expertise in many disciplines along with
his three colleagues.
Their insight and erudition in all areas, especially in the realms of mystical
and esoteric knowledge, far outshone those of the other wise men of the kingdom.
According to the Talmud, Daniel was endowed with an incredible gift of wisdom
such that if one were to weigh his wisdom against the wisdom of all the wise
men of the gentile nations, the wisdom of Daniel would outweigh them all.
Nourishing the Soul
In order to augment the honor
people would accord the idols of Nebuchadnezzar,
all four of them were assigned new names associated with idolatry, but Daniel
was designated the name of the most prestigious idol, Belshazzar.
This had a galvanizing effect on
the four of them, which further strengthened their resolve to abstain from the
non-kosher royal cuisine that was available for their consumption.
Instead, they survived on a meager diet of legumes and water,
and miraculously their appearance was even healthier than those who partook of
the royal dishes.
Interpreter of Dreams
Being a master interpreter of dreams, Daniel heroically
averted a royal decree issued in 3340 (421 BCE) to slay all the wise men of the
for their failure to help Nebuchadnezzar
recall a mysterious dream he had seen. Daniel
and his colleagues entreated Heaven that the dream be revealed, and their
request was granted.
After expressing gratitude to the Almighty and
attributing his insight to G‑d,
Daniel proceeded to remind the king of his dream, and provided him with a
striking prediction of the future,
describing the successive kingdoms that would rise to power and dominate the
civilized world, including the Median-Persian, Greek and Roman empires.
The recollection of the dream and
its accompanying interpretation so impressed the king, that he began to treat
Daniel as though he were a deity, prostrating himself and attempting to offer
libations and sacrifices before him. Daniel
spurned these efforts of deification, so Nebuchadnezzar
instead promoted Daniel to the position of governor of the entire province of
Babylon and prime minister over all the wise men of Babylon, who of course were
The sages of the Midrash equate Daniel’s contribution with Joseph’s
invaluable leadership of Egypt: “Had it not been for the Joseph, all
of Egypt would have disintegrated, and without Daniel, all of the wise men of
Babylon would have been destroyed.”
Twelve years later (3352, 410 BCE), Nebuchadnezzar
had another disturbing dream. Instead of summoning the other wise men of the
empire, the king immediately sent for Daniel and requested his interpretation.
The implications of the dream were alarming, but
Daniel shared them with the king. He informed the king that he would be struck
with insanity for seven years and would be reduced to the level of an animal.
His kingdom, though, would remain intact and he would return to his reign upon
recognizing the ultimate authority of G‑d.
Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar
that to prevent the dream from turning into reality, he should distribute
charity to the poor in abundance, and in the merit of these righteous deeds he
might be spared from this fate.
The king accepted the suggestion, and proceeded to open his treasury to
distribute funds to the poor Jewish exiles who would ordinarily beg for alms.
This act of benevolence delayed the fate that awaited him for 12 months.
Once the year had passed, Nebuchadnezzar
proudly surmised that the decree had been nullified, and returned to the
pomposity that had characterized his behavior before the dream.
As soon as he uttered his first words of conceit, the Divine decree was
implemented, and he began to conduct himself as though he were an animal.
Ultimately, at the end of seven years, Nebuchadnezzar
returned to his senses and reclaimed the throne.
Nebuchadnezzar died in
the year 3364 (397 BCE) and was succeeded by his son Evil [pronounced eh-vil] Merodach whose reign extended
for 23 years. He was followed by King Belshazzar who ascended the throne in
3387 (374 BCE).
The Writing on the Wall
As predicted by the vision of Daniel, the
kingdoms of Mede and Persia began to rebel against the rule of Bablylon. After
initially warding off the attacks and declaring victory, King Belshazzar and
one thousand of his noblemen threw a great feast in celebration.
While under the influence of wine, Belshazzar called for the gold and silver
vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from
the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be brought so that he, his nobles, wives and
concubines could drink from them.
After the vessels of the Temple were desecrated in such a manner, the fingers
of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s
palace. The king watched in alarm as the disembodied hand wrote a coded message
that no one seemed to understand. Belshazzar declared, “Whoever can read this
inscription and tell me its meaning will be attired in [royal] purple, wear a
golden chain and reign third in the kingdom.” Despite their best efforts, the
wise men of the kingdom could not unlock the mysterious message.
On the advice of the queen, Daniel was summoned to the
palace to interpret the inscription. Daniel
declined the reward, but proceeded to censure the king for his brazen use of
the Temple vessels, which would be the cause of the ill fate about to befall
Reading the cryptic words, “mene mene
tekel ufarsin” (literally, “measured, measured, weighed and divided”),
Daniel explained: mene – G‑d has
measured the duration of your reign, and it has come to an end; tekel – you have been weighed in the
balance and been found wanting; preis
– your kingdom is to be divided and given to Media and Persia.
As Daniel portended, the disintegration of the Babylonian
empire was soon to come. That very night Belshazzar was assassinated by one of
his own bodyguards.
In the Lions’ Den
With the death of Belshazzar, the combined armies of the
Medes under Darius and the armies of Persia under Cyrus, were free to march into
Babylon and conquer it. Darius was first to rule, in keeping with
the prophecy that Mede would reign first.
It was important for Darius to quickly assert control over
the vast kingdom, so he appointed 120 functionaries to conduct the affairs of
the many lands under his dominion. A supervisory council of three, one of whom
was Daniel, would preside over all the activities of the functionaries.
With time, it became increasingly clear that Daniel was much wiser than his
colleagues, which prompted Darius to consider appointing him over the entire
When his colleagues became aware of this, they conspired to make Daniel guilty
Purporting to act in the king’s best interests to solidify
control over the empire, they proposed a decree that no citizen of the kingdom
be permitted to address any request to any god or human other than the king for
30 days. Disobeying this command would be punishable by being thrown into a
The decree was approved by the king, who signed the proclamation and issued the
Daniel was unfazed. He proceeded to climb to the upper story
of his home where his windows faced Jerusalem, to pray three times a day as he
had always done
(a proof, incidentally, that Jews have prayed three times a day since time
His enemies lost no time in reporting his illegal prayers to the king. Darius,
who had come to value and respect Daniel, was deeply disturbed by this
because he recognized that he would now be compelled to act upon his decree.
After initially attempting to delay the order, Darius ordered Daniel to be
thrown to the lions,
wishing him “May Your G‑d, Whom you worship continually, rescue you!”
At dawn, Darius rushed to the lions’ den and called out,
“Daniel, was the G‑d Whom you continually worshipped able to rescue you?”
Miraculously, Daniel was not harmed. “My G‑d,”
said Daniel, “sent His angel who shut the mouths of the lions so that they
wouldn’t harm me!”
Having witnessed this miraculous occurrence, Darius ordered
those who slandered Daniel, along with their families, to be condemned to the
The Talmud explains that Daniel was brought to endure this
ordeal because he had provided king Nebuchadnezzar
with advice to give charity to the Jewish
poor in order to avoid Divine retribution. The
Midrash, however, adopts the view that this incident occurred in order to
sanctify the name of G‑d.
It is interesting to note that portions of Daniel’s prayers
have been incorporated into the daily liturgy as part of the penitential
The Talmud also mentions that in later generations, Jewish
people would walk considerable distances on Shabbat to assemble and pray at the
location where Daniel prayed, which was situated three miles from the city of
The Demise of an Idol
In his unceasing quest to ensnare his Jewish subjects into
idol worship, king Nebuchadnezzar erected an
idol in whose mouth he inserted the diadem—the tzitz of the high priest bearing G‑d’s ineffable name, which he had
plundered from the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple—and as a
result the idol began to utter astounding thing, including the words, “I am the
L‑rd your G‑d.” Daniel moved close to the idol and commanded, “I am the
emissary of the Master of the Universe. I decree upon you to emerge from inside
the idol!” Daniel uttered one of the Divine names, the tzitz emerged and the
idol collapsed and broke.
It should be noted that according to the Talmud,
Daniel was not present during the assembly before the idol of Dura.
Men of the Great Assembly
Prior to the return of the Jews to Judea in 3413 (348 BCR),
the leading Jewish scholars of the time convened to form the most prestigious
assembly of Jewish scholarship in recorded history, known as the Anshei Kneset
Hagedolah (Men of the Great Assembly). Among them were Chagai, Zecharia,
Malachi, Daniel, Chanania, Mishael, Azarya, Nechemia, Mordechai, Zerubavel and
One of the reasons they are referred to as the “Great
Assembly” is because they “returned greatness to its original luster”
by restoring and preserving the original language of the prayers as they were
uttered by Moshe in the Torah.
explains that the original Amidah (standing) prayer included the words, “the
great, powerful and awesome God.” However, when the prophet Jeremiah beheld
“strangers croaking in His Sanctuary” in the aftermath of the destruction of
the Temple, he omitted the word “awesome,” for “where
are the displays of His awesomeness?”
Daniel, acted in a similar manner. He said, “Behold,
strangers are enslaving His children, where are the displays of His power?” He
therefore did not say “powerful” in his prayer.
When the Great Assembly convened, they reinstated the
original language of Moshe, explaining that “On the contrary! This is His
magnificent display of strength for He restrains His will in that He shows a
long-suffering countenance to the wicked by not punishing them immediately. And
these are indeed great displays of His awesomeness, because if not for the awe
of the nations for the Holy One, Blessed is He, how could one solitary nation
survive among the 70 nations of the world?!”
The Talmud discusses the propriety of Jeremiah and Daniel
altering the language of the prayer, explaining that “because they knew that
G‑d is truthful and despises falsehood, they therefore would not speak
falsehood to Him.” In others words, in their view, it was appropriate to praise
G‑d for those attributes that He had manifested in the world at that time. Upon
the return of the Jewish people to Judea, and with the renaissance of the
Jewish people, the Men of the Great Assembly restored the original language,
with the explanation that the bitter reality of the exile itself bears out G‑d’s power and awesomeness. In other
words, during times of suffering the intention of the words may be different
than during times of prosperity, but either way, the original language is
Stature in Scripture
The book of Daniel is a narrative woven with mystery and
prophecy, containing cryptic descriptions of future events, mystical
interpretation of dreams, profound visions about the Mashiach (Messiah) and the
revival of the dead in the end of days. It is the primary source used by many
Jewish scholars for calculating the exact date of the future redemption,
information Daniel was commanded to render obscure.
Daniel is perceived of as being on par with, or even greater
than, Ezekiel the prophet, as they are both referred to in scripture with the
honorific, “Son of Man.”
explains that this refers to their having refined their character to such a
point that they would reflect the human-like Divine attributes (“Son of Man”)
through which G‑d interfaces with existence. With regard to both Ezekiel and
Daniel, we learn of their steadfast commitment to G‑d by refusing to partake of
Yet, there are some surprising distinctions between the two
as well. The masters of Kabbalah point out that Daniel was privy to clearer
prophetic visions than those of Ezekiel, despite not being a
prophet like his colleagues, Chagai, Zecharia and Malachi.
The Kabbalists explain that Daniel was unlike the other prophets in that he was
not appointed by G‑d to convey and publicize Divine messages of prophecy as the
Because his visions would not be shared, he was permitted to perceive them with
greater clarity and intensity.
Identity in the Writings
Some identify Daniel as Hatach, who is mentioned in the
Purim story as the individual who transmitted critical messages between
Mordechai and Esther. He was referred to as Hatach (lit. “cut”) either because
under Ahasuerus he was demoted to being an ordinary courier, or because under
the subsequent regime (of Cyrus or Darius II) all
matters of state were determined (“cut”) by him.
Daniel is also identified as Memuchan, the advisor to king
Achashverosh who suggested that queen Vashti be put to death for disobeying the
royal order to appear before the king during his feast. Memuchan
means “prepared,” and Daniel was strategically placed by divine providence to
be the agent through whom the miracle of Purim began to unfold.
discusses a law established by Daniel while in Babylon that was intended to
make intermarriage less likely. The sages enacted various laws that were
intended to ensure that Jews do not marry out of the faith, such as the
ordinance against partaking of food items cooked by gentiles. In Daniel’s era,
he decreed that a Jew may not partake of oil belonging to a gentile. Daniel
qualified this ruling as applying only in big cities where the possibility of
fraternizing with gentiles and ultimately marrying them was a greater
The name Daniel is a conglomerate of the Hebrew words “din,” meaning severity and restraint,
and “E-l,” the Divine name associated
with kindness and benevolence. The chassidic masters explain that the
combination of these two opposites in a single name, implies that Daniel
succeeded in transforming “din,”
severity, into “E-l,” kindness.
As a paradigm of spiritual resilience
Daniel displayed genuine self-sacrifice in the face of immense adversity, and
holding onto his beliefs and religious practice despite the isolation of exile.
Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness that enveloped him, Daniel personally
retained a high level of Divine consciousness and aligned his conduct with its
sacred values. He served as a shining example of genuine devotion to G‑d for
all his Jewish brethren. In a way, he succeeded in transforming the spiritual
desolation of his corner of the world into a state of redemption. In this
merit, the book of Daniel is the sole volume of the Holy Scriptures to openly
record Divine prophecy regarding the ultimate redemption and the time it will