I was recently reading a commentary on the Book of Daniel. Its introduction contended that Daniel's apocalyptic Messianic prophesies are all most easily explained as referring to the history of the Jews from Babylonia through the Chanukah wars. I.e. the prophecies apparently explain the Messiah as coming after the Chanukah wars. Moreover linguistic analysis apparently shows Hellenistic vocabulary, all of this suggesting the book was written around the time of the Chanukah wars, as an attempt to explain contemporary events as the birth pangs of the Messiah.

I am finding it very difficult to sweep these difficulties away in my mind. I certainly know that it is a cardinal faith of Judaism that the prophets were true. Nevertheless, I have been unable to get these doubts over Daniel from my mind. To be clear, any doubts I have are confined solely to Daniel, not to the prophets in general. Nevertheless, I recognize this is a serious problem.

I know that when the sages were canonizing the Bible, they had a lot of works in front of them, and had to figure out what's authentic and what's not. And I know they were a lot of works now in the Apocrypha that they rejected. How could they (and we) be sure what is what and that a mistake wasn't made in the selection?


The fact that all this bothers you to such a degree is the greatest proof of how much faith you do have.

There's a story of a chassid who went to see his rebbe and cried, "Rebbe, I don't believe!"

His rebbe answered him, "So what?"

"What do you mean, 'so what?'?" he cried out, "I am a Jew!"

To which the Rebbe pointed out something similar to what I just wrote you.

I sincerely doubt that the author of the introduction you read approached the Book of Daniel with an open mind. If you would suggest to this author that perhaps it was written as a prophecy, he would most likely provide a condescending smile. Prophecy is not scientific. It is not reasonable. To him, prophecy is just another fairy tale.

So he does what historians always do: Ignore the tradition and compose a scenario that sounds most likely and conclude that this is fact. To whom does it sound most likely? To his very biased modern mind.

Here's a little lesson in prophecy from the Shelah (R' Yeshaya Horowitz, 16-17th century): The prophet sees a vision as it is above, in a higher world. There, however, it is in an amorphous state. How that prophecy actually materializes is up to us.

So it is quite possible that Daniel's prophecy could have materialized with the victory of the Hasmoneans—if it were not for their mistake of taking the royal crown that had been promised to the seed of David.

Prophecy is not "the world as G‑d knows it". The world as G‑d knows it is not something the human mind can fathom. G‑d and His knowledge are one, as Maimonides writes. If we could know the way He knows, we would be Him. It is a kind of knowledge that defies definition and clarity, just as G‑d Himself. Rather, a prophecy is the state of matters in a higher realm, before it has reached our earthly plane. There, it is amorphous, not fully defined and can materialize in more than one way.

The Redemption, according to the sages, could have been complete with Moses, with King David, with King Hezekiah, with Ezra, with the Maccabees, with Bar Kochba...and in so many other instances. But it's all up to us, when we decide to cash in.

I'll give you another major principle to follow: This is called Judaism. By way of comparison — Buddhism means belief in the path taught by Buddha. Taoism means belief in the Tao. Christianity means belief in Jesus. The Karaites believed in a book. Theists believe in G‑d.

What does Judaism mean? It means belief in the Jews. We believe that G‑d reveals Himself to the world through the history of the Jews.

Which means that we believe that when the Jewish people accepted the decision of the Sages concerning which books go in and which not, that means that these books are holy and the others not. That's why we say, "Asher kidishanu b'mitzvotav," blessing G‑d for sanctifying us with His commandments, when we wash our hands before eating bread, or before kindling Shabbat candles, or any other mitzvah that the rabbis instituted and the people accepted—because that process is divine.

The more you think into this, the more you will see that this is the only way to make sense of Judaism.

It's perfectly normal that after reading the works of those who do not share our beliefs, a person will come to have doubts. The human mind is created to doubt. True intellect is never certain of anything.

That is why, the best path for a person is to determine once and for all which is the path he wishes to follow—and then to walk down that path with confidence, never looking back. Otherwise, for every step forward, we would take two steps back. But with confidence and faith, we can change the world.

I suggest that you find yourself a good partner to study with. And you should study those things that strengthen your faith, not challenge it.

In my job, answering questions, I am forced to read all the skeptics and answer the heretics. It's a bitter lunch in foul air. You are blessed that you can stick to the enlightened words of the sages of Torah. If you ever have doubts, look at the lives of those sages and how they epitomized all that is good and wise. Compare it to the alternative of those who live by the authority of their own minds. It's a wonderful empirical experiment: If it works, whether you understand it or not, it's what's right.