Chapter I

ועתה שמע אלקינו אל תפלת עבדך ואל
תחנוניו והאר פניך על מקדשך השמם
למען אדני

"And now, our G‑d, hearken to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate Sanctuary for the L-rd's sake."1

This was a prayer offered by Daniel to G‑d. Daniel,2 together with Chananya, Mishael and Azarya (three other children of the royal house of Dovid), as well as many other Jewish youth, were carried to Babylon by King Nevuchadnetzar. Nevuchadnetzar commanded Ashpenaz, his chief officer, to choose children of Jewish royalty, well-built and of fair appearance and without even the most minute or hidden blemish.3 They were to be of exceptional character, wise and discerning. Such children would be fit to live in the king's palace, where they would be reared by capable teachers for three years. Daniel, Chananya, Mishael and Azarya, the four boys chosen by the chief officer, were given the names of deities worshipped by the Kasdim.4 Daniel was renamed Beltshetzar, Chananya-Shedrach, Mishael-Meshach, and Azarya was called Abed-Nego.

With the aid of excellent physicians, the king himself selected the food and drink with which the children would be nourished. Their guardian tried feeding them their special diet, but Daniel firmly resolved to refrain from eating the non-kosher foods served him from the royal kitchens, and from drinking the non-kosher wines from the royal cellars. That this defiance of the royal decree subjected him to the death penalty did not deter him.

In summary: When Nevuchadnetzar captured Yerushalayim, he chose Daniel, Chananya, Mishael and Azarya, all children of royal descent. He changed their names and commanded that they be fed non-kosher food and drink. Daniel and his companions, with mesirus nefesh, refused to eat these forbidden foods.

Chapter II

Daniel also had mesirus nefesh concerning prayer. G‑d revealed Nevuchadnetzar's dream to Daniel along with its interpretation. Daniel revealed the meaning of the dream to Nevuchadnetzar, whereupon the king raised Daniel's status, appointing him to a key government post5 and housing him in one of the royal palaces.

King Darius the Mede considered himself Divine, and demanded6 that everyone pray to him rather than to their G‑d. Whoever disobeyed the decree would be thrown into a pit containing hungry lions.

In the residence given him by the king, Daniel set aside a room for prayer that had a window which faced Yerushalayim and the Sanctuary. Three times a day he prayed in this room Shacharis, Minchah and Maariv.7 One day, spies informed the king that Daniel was disobeying the royal edict and praying to his G‑d three times a day. The king held Daniel in great esteem, and would have liked to save him, but according to the laws of Persia and Mede, even the king is subject to royal decree, so Daniel was thrown to the lions. A massive stone was placed on the entrance of the pit, and the edges were secured with the royal seal. But G‑d saved Daniel from the lions.

And so it was that Daniel constantly had mesirus nefesh concerning prayer. One of Daniel's prayers was: "And now, our G‑d, hearken to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate Sanctuary for the L-rd's sake."

We must understand the meaning of the word "now" which Daniel used.8 "Now" seems to mean "at this moment," i.e., during the time of prayer. But prayer does not have a fixed time, for in all times of trouble and travail be it collective or personal there is a command to pray to G‑d for salvation.9 Underlying this command is the belief that G‑d sustains everyone with kindness, guides all creation with mercy, and oversees the life of each individual with Divine Providence. Why then does the verse say "now," referring to a specific time?

In summary: Darius considered himself divine, and decreed, upon penalty of death, that everyone must pray to him instead of to G‑d. Again displaying mesirus nefesh, Daniel continued to beseech G‑d three times a day. One of his prayers was: "And now, our G‑d, hearken to the prayer of Your servant...." But prayer implies a constant belief in G‑d. Why then did Daniel say "now"?

Chapter III

We must also clearly understand the meaning of the request "and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate Sanctuary," as well as the reason given, "for the L-rd's sake."

The explanation is as follows: The Talmud10 states: "Daniel's prayer was not denied only because of Avraham's merit, as it is written: 'And now... for the L-rd's sake.' "

Daniel should have said "for Your sake," so why did he say "for the L-rd's sake?" The Talmud explains that he meant that his request be granted in the merit of Avraham, who also called to G‑d using the term "L-rd." As Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: "From the moment of creation, no one called G‑d 'L-rd' until Avraham did so."

In order to understand this, we must first understand the Talmud's statement that Daniel's request was granted in Avraham's merit alone. From the Talmud's expression, we gather that Daniel was indeed worthy of having his request granted in his own merit. The Talmud's expression indicates wonder; why was Daniel dependent upon Avraham's merit?

Why indeed is the Talmud perplexed at Daniel's request that his petition be granted in the merit of Avraham? We find that when Moshe prayed to G‑d that He spare the Jewish people, he too mentioned the merit of the Patriarchs, as it is written:11 "Remember Your servants, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov." Why then is it a matter of wonder that Daniel was answered in the merit of Avraham?

Yet another matter must be understood: From the Talmud's statement, it seems that the expression "for the L-rd's sake" is spiritually superior to the expression "for Your sake," for were the verse to have said "for Your sake," we would not know its true intent. "For the L-rd's sake," then, is more spiritually accurate. But how can "for Your sake" be an inferior expression, when the term "Your" alludes to G‑d's Essence? For example, when a person says "you" to another, he is referring to the other's essence. This too is the meaning of the words, "Blessed are You," which we recite during the Shemoneh Esreh. We bless and beseech G‑d Himself to fulfill our request, that His sustenance come from the Essence of His Infinite Light.

"For the L-rd's sake," however, means in the merit of Avraham, who called the A-mighty, "L-rd." Avraham performed his great service of hospitality with mesirus nefesh, making G‑d's name known to even the most common nomads, expending great effort so that even they should comprehend the concept of G‑dliness, and that He is master of the world. In this manner he taught that the world is under G‑d's dominion.12 We must therefore understand why the expression "for the L-rd's sake," which refers to Avraham's spiritual service, is superior to the term "for Your sake," which refers to G‑d's Essence.

In summary: Daniel beseeches G‑d: "and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate Sanctuary for the L-rd's sake." Why does he say "for the L-rd's sake" and not "for Your sake?" His prayer was answered in the merit of Avraham, who was the first to call G‑d "L-rd." Avraham made it known to all that G‑d is Creator and L-rd of the world.

Chapter IV

After the general request of: "And now, our G‑d, hearken to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and let Your countenance shine upon Your desolate Sanctuary for the L-rd's sake," Daniel went on to say:13 "Give ear, my G‑d, and hear; open Your eyes and behold our desolate place, and the city upon which Your Name is proclaimed."

According to the Kabbalah14 the term "Your eyes" should be understood to mean one eye,15 as in the verse:16 "The eye of the L-rd is directed towards those who fear Him."

We must understand why sometimes a verse says "The [single] eye of the L-rd is directed towards those who fear Him," while at other times the verse17 reads: "The [two] eyes of the L-rd are directed towards the righteous." The Midrash18 teaches: "When Jews fulfill G‑d's will, He looks at them with both eyes, as it is written: 'The eyes of the L-rd are directed toward the righteous.' When, however, they disobey Him, He looks at them with one eye, as it is written: 'The eye of the L-rd is directed toward those who fear Him.' "

Since the singular term is used only when Jews do not fulfill G‑d's will, why does Daniel use the term in his prayer?

The Midrash on the Torah portion of Lech Lecha19 comments: " 'The eye of the L-rd is directed toward those who fear Him' refers to Avraham, concerning whom it is written:20 'Now I know that you are a G‑d-fearing man.' " This matter too must be understood. Since the expression "The eye of the L-rd ..." refers to a time when Jews do not fulfill G‑d's will, how can this allude to Avraham, who is known21 a "dear friend of the King"? The matter is particularly puzzling since the verse quoted by the Midrash refers to Avraham after he had scaled new spiritual heights by successfully passing the 10 tests. As our Sages say:22 "With 10 tests was our father Avraham tested, and he withstood them all."

Yet another concept remains to be understood. Of what significance is it whether G‑d looks with one eye or with both? The explanation is as follows: Dovid HaMelech says to G‑d:23 "They crush Your people, O L-rd, and oppress Your heritage.... And they say: 'The L-rd does not see, the G‑d of Yaakov does not perceive.' " Dovid continues: "Understand, you senseless among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Shall He who implants the ear not hear? Shall He who forms the eye not see?"

What does Dovid mean by this declaration? Even the most simple-minded person perceives that G‑d sees and hears.

Maimonides24 provides the following parable: Before an artisan makes a vessel, he must first envision the object in his mind's eye and heart. This is especially so when he desires the vessel to perform to its maximum potential. He must be aware of all its details, and the purposes the vessel must serve. So too concerning G‑d. Were we to say that G‑d does not apprehend the powers of sight and sound, how then could He create them?

Inasmuch as the above is understood by even the most ordinary person, what does Dovid mean with his declaration?

In summary: Daniel says: "Give ear, my G‑d, and hear; open Your eye and behold." When Jews fulfill G‑d's will, the verse states: "The [two] eyes of the L-rd are directed toward the righteous." When they do not, the verse states: "The [single] eye of the L-rd is directed toward those who fear Him." Why then does Daniel use the term (as explained by the Kabbalists) "Your eye," in the singular? The Midrash says that the verse, "The eye of the L-rd..." alludes to Avraham. Dovid says: "Shall He who implants the ear not hear? Shall He who forms the eye not see?"

Chapter V

The matter is as follows: There are two levels, hishtalshelus and a level that transcends hishtalshelus. Hishtalshelus is the progressive chain of descent from one level to the next. It is similar to a shalsheles, or chain, which is composed of numerous linked rings. The upper part of each lower ring rests on the ring immediately above it, while the lower part of every upper ring is linked to the upper part of the ring immediately below it. Though each ring is linked to the next, each succeeding ring becomes further removed from the top one.

The same is true regarding knowledge. There is higher and lower wisdom. This is so both with regard to the various branches of knowledge and with regard to the various levels within each branch. There are different categories of knowledge, such as the natural sciences of botany, medicine, etc. There are also categories of knowledge which are supernatural, and then there is the knowledge of Torah and G‑dliness.

In each of these subjects there is a higher and a lower. Yet in general, those branches of wisdom dealing with natural matters are lower than the branches dealing with the supernatural. The latter are, in turn, lower than the knowledge of Torah and G‑dliness. For all other fields of knowledge are in the realm of human intellect, while Torah deals with G‑dly intellect.

Though Torah also descends to the level of human comprehension, for the mitzvah of learning Torah can be performed only when Torah is understood, the essential concepts of Torah are G‑dly. To gain G‑dly wisdom involves comprehending G‑dliness and G‑d. G‑dliness refers to Divine emanations, which are illumination but not essence. For example, the sun's light is only an emanation from the sun, while the sun itself is essence. For this reason the sun is called "ma'or," or "source of light," while the light which radiates from it is called "ha'orah," or "emanation."

The manner of understanding G‑dliness is twofold: that G‑d is all and that all is G‑d. Both these aspects contain profound intellectual concepts. G‑d Himself, however, is "atzmi," or "essence," and totally beyond comprehension. All that can be comprehended is ha'orah, the radiation emanating from His essence. Essence itself is far removed from emanation, as they are completely different from one another. However, this too can be apprehended, albeit to a limited degree, for in the gaining of wisdom there is an ordered progression of lower and higher, smaller and greater.

In summary: Knowledge is divided into various categories, some higher and some lower, similar to a chain in which every link bears some similarity to every other. This is hishtalshelus. The wisdom of Torah and G‑dliness, though humanly comprehensible, transcends hishtalshelus. G‑dliness in relation to G‑d is similar to the rays of the sun compared to the sun itself. G‑d is all; all is G‑d.

Chapter VI

The various branches of knowledge are progressive, and Torah knowledge is loftier than knowledge dealing with the natural world. Yet Torah knowledge, though G‑dly, is only an emanation of His Blessed and Infinite Essence.

The order of the various branches of knowledge is such that not only is one category lower than the other, but by properly understanding a lower branch of knowledge, one can, to a limited degree, understand a higher branch. The ability to move from a lower category to a higher one varies according to the branch involved. In no way can one liken the understanding of the Infinite One that is gained through studying natural wisdom to the comprehension of Him gained through Torah study. Still and all, by examining the lower branches of knowledge one can, to a limited degree, gain a deeper understanding of the loftier branches. A case in point: a wise man who lacks prior knowledge of the Torah will understand the wisdom of G‑dliness to a much lesser degree.

The above illustrates how all branches of knowledge are interrelated. Though the lower branches can in no way be compared to the higher ones, the relationship is such that knowledge of a lower branch can greatly enhance the comprehension of a higher branch.

One may postulate that the benefit of comprehending a higher branch through a lower one comes not simply because of their interrelationship, but because when one understands a lower branch it causes him to become more intellectually refined, which in turn enables him to comprehend more profound and sophisticated kinds of knowledge. Every matter which a person comprehends broadens and refines his mind, enabling him to grasp ever more profound concepts.

It is true that comprehending a lower branch of knowledge refines and broadens one's intellect, consequently enabling one to comprehend more profound branches of knowledge. But it is also true that a lower branch of knowledge is a preface to a higher one. Not only does the lower branch refine the brain, it also serves as an introduction to the higher branches. This is due to the inner connection between all branches of knowledge.

The same is true within each particular branch of knowledge. Just as there are lower and higher branches of knowledge, so too within each branch can be found higher and lower, greater and smaller.

This then is the meaning of hishtalshelus, the progressive and orderly descent from one level to the next.

In summary: All branches of wisdom, from the lowest form of natural science to the highest branch of G‑dliness, are connected. Each branch refines the brain, enabling a person to understand the higher branches more deeply. Knowledge of Torah with proper reverence is a step towards the understanding of G‑d and G‑dliness.