BS”D KNOW YOUR BIBLE: Daniel Chapters 2-3
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
DANIEL CHAPTER 2
Although the dream of Nebuchadnezzar is dated in our text as having taken place in “the second year of the reign (MALCHUS, kingship) of Nebuchadnezzar…” (v 1), Rashi (ad loc.) points out that this cannot be taken literally since Daniel was not yet in Bablyon. What the text means is that this was in the second year after the destruction of the Temple, for then Nebuchadnezzar attained the height of temporal, unholy MALCHUS when he displayed his brazen arrogance in entering into the Sanctuary of the King of the Universe.
After his dream, “his spirit was troubled”, VATITH-PA’EM RUHO. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is compared to Pharaoh’s dream of the seven cows and seven ears of corn, except that in Pharaoh’s case, it says VATI-PA’EM RUHO (Gen. 41:8), whereas in the case of Nebuchadnezzar the grammatical form of the Hebrew verb is the “doubled” HITPA’EL – VATITH-PA’EM implying double trouble, because on waking up, Pharaoh forgot the interpretation but did remember the dream, whereas Nebuchadnezzar forgot both the interpretation AND THE DREAM ITSELF.
Metzudas David on verse 2 explains that the HARTOUMIM that Nebuchadnezzar summoned to tell him what he had dreamed and what it meant were experts in natural sciences and psychological explanations of dreams while the ASHAPHIM were medical doctors who understood how bodily changes are reflected in the pulse, urine etc. The MECHASHPHIM were astrologers who used the positions of planets etc. in interpreting various phenomena including dreams, while the KASDIM were experts in the constellations and could understand a person’s destiny by knowing the hour at which he was born. Rashi (on Daniel 1:20) says the HARTOUMIM used to use human bones for divination.
In response to Nebuchadnezzar’s outlandish demand to be told the very dream that he himself had forgotten, the KASDIM, who had the reputation for being the most deeply immersed in the occult arts as well as the cruellest, switched into speaking Aramaic – the lingua franca of Mesopotamia and Syria – so that everyone present should be able to understand and see how ridiculous the king’s demand was in order to shame him into backtracking. Much of the rest of the book of Daniel is written in the same courtly Aramaic, with its very stately cadences and a style somewhat more ornate than the classic chiseled simplicity of biblical Hebrew.
The KASDIM explained to the king that he was asking for something far too weighty “and there is no one else (AHARAN) who can tell the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (v 11). The Midrash states that (by reading the letter HET of AHARAN as a HEH) the KASDIM were saying that “there is no AHARON” – i.e. the only person who could have told the king his dream would have been AHARON the High Priest – i.e. the High Priest of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem, who could have consulted the URIM VE-THUMIM. Nebuchadnezzar was enraged because those same KASDIM had advised him to destroy the Temple, and this is why he now ordered them all to be killed (Rashi on v 11).
The decree extended to all the wise men in Babylon, including Daniel and his companions Hananiyah, Misha’el and Azariah, but through the power of their sanctity and prayer and Daniel’s exalted holiness, God revealed the secret of the dream to him. Like Joseph when he explained to Pharaoh the meaning of his dream, Daniel emphasized to Nebuchadnezzar that God alone had the power to reveal the dream and its meaning to him – as if Daniel himself were a mere channel (v 27): Daniel’s whole purpose was to SANCTIFY THE NAME OF GOD.
With the collapse of the Davidic kingdom of holiness as a temporal world power, the MALCHUS had fallen to the KELIPOS (“husks”), of which – after Pharaoh king of Egypt – Nebuchadnezzar was the golden HEAD. Thus in the second year after the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar in his dream envisaged HIMSELF and all that would come after him until the end of time as the unholy MALCHUS worked its way through to the end of its internal logic, leading eventually to its own destruction by the MALCHUS of MASHIACH (the stone that smashes the statue).
We are blessed to have very great rabbinic commentators on the book of Daniel. Besides Rashi and Metzudas David, the standard classical commentators, we also have the outstanding commentary of RABENU SA’ADIA GAON (892-942, Egypt and Israel) and that of R. Avraham IBN EZRA, both of which provide crucial insights into the meaning of the imagery in Daniel’s visions.
All the commentators are agreed that the golden head of the statue is Nebuchadnezzar while the silver chest and arms are the empires of Medea and Persia that followed (as we will read later on in Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah and also in Esther). All are agreed that the bronze belly and thighs allude to the Greek empire that started with the conquests of Alexander of Macedon. R. Sa’adia Gaon states that some commentators identified the iron legs exclusively with Aram (=Edom, Rome), but he takes issue with this as it leaves no room for the empire of Ishmael. He himself endorses the view that the fourth kingdom is divided between Aram (iron) and Ishmael (clay). As to their being “iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men”: this signifies that Jewish seed will be mixed in with these peoples as will the seed of many other peoples living with them – except that they will not be truly attached to one another just as iron and clay don’t hold together.
[We can see aspects of this end-of-time prediction in today’s kind-of alliance between Britain-U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia etc. The degree of intermingling of Jewish seed in many nations can be gauged from today’s rates of intermarriage and assimilation.]
All the commentators are agreed that the stone that smashes the statue (v 34-5) – which Daniel explains as the MALCHUS that will never ever be destroyed – is the MALCHUS of Melech HaMashiach that we are awaiting soon in our times.
On hearing Daniel tell him his dream and its meaning, both of which Nebuchadnezzar knew but had forgotten, the king fell down to worship him like a god – but Daniel refused to be treated as a god and did not accept the king’s gifts, because Daniel knew that God exacts retribution not only from idol worshippers but also from the gods they worship (Bereishis Rabbah 96).
Having heard Daniel’s interpretation of his dream – that the empires of the nations would be destroyed while the kingdom of Israel would endure – Nebuchadnezzar was determined to make Israel stumble and find a way to destroy them, and this was why he immediately built his golden idol (R. Sa’adiah Gaon). ARI explains that the idol was SIXTY CUBITS HIGH corresponding to the six main Sefiros of Chessed-Gevurah-Tiferes-Netzach-Hod-Yesod, each of which is composed of all ten Sefiros (6 x 10=60). Nebuchadnezzar sought to turn the Kindness of Zeir Anpin into severe Judgment (Sefer HaLikutim, Daniel).
It is said that he chose to erect his idol in the Valley of Doura (v 1) because this was where Adam’s buttocks were formed. R. Saadia Gaon states that the Valley was full of the bones of Israelite exiles from the tribe of Ephraim who had been slain by the KASDIM, and the king wanted to frighten all his subjects into submission. In revenge for Nebuchadnezzar’s brazen arrogance, God commanded Ezekiel to bring the dry bones back to life in this same Valley of Doura (Sanhedrin 92b).
It seems as if Nebuchadnezzar wanted to establish a new world religion, which would explain why he brought together such an huge array of officials and representatives of so many different lands (v 2). For the jubilant inauguration of his idol he assembled an enormous symphony orchestra: the list of the many different kinds of instruments includes many that had formerly been played in the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Chaldean slanderers who denounced Daniel’s three companions, Hananiya (Shadrakh), Misha’el (Meishakh) and Azaria (Abad-nego), to Nebuchadnezzar were jealous of the fact that at Daniel’s request they had been appointed to supervise all the royal ministers (Daniel 2:49).
When Nebuchadnezzar threatened the three with burning in his furnace and arrogantly asked them, “Which god will save you from my hands?” (v 15), they replied without hesitation that the God they served had the power to save them, and that even if He did not – for they did not rely on their own merits or on miracles – they would still not worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. In other words they were ready to sacrifice themselves even without being saved.
In the words of the Midrash, the three companions told Nebuchadnezzar: “When it comes to all the various taxes you impose on us you are king, but if you are telling us to worship idols, you and a dog are just the same and you are no king” (Yalkut Shimoni). It was this that enraged the king (v 19) causing him to have the furnace stoked sevenfold… The fourth figure that Nebuchadnezzar saw walking unscathed through the fire was the angel Gabriel, “who was following after the three companions like a student after his teacher, to teach you that the Tzaddikim are greater than the ministering angels! When Nebuchadnezzar saw the angel Gabriel, he immediately recognized him and all his limbs quaked and trembled. He said, This is the angel I saw in Sennacherib’s war, and he appeared like a river of fire that burned up his entire camp” (Yalkut Shimoni).
Nebuchadnezzar’s recognition of the saving power of HaShem was a great SANCTIFICATION OF HIS NAME during the very exile of Israel – and as we see from vv 31ff, Nebuchadnezzar wrote a letter to all the people’s of his empire praising the supreme God. A number of the beautiful Aramaic phrases from this letter are woven into the Shabbos table song KAH RIBON found in most Siddurs and collections of Shabbos Zemiros.
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