Daniel in the lion’s den – A modern day hero
As a Nation, we have been hated, and we have learned to live with it. The roots of the hatred that we still face as an integral part of our history are diverse. The responsibility of being chosen and the resentment that the role has created, is as ancient as we are yet as contemporary as the U.N.s double standards when Israel in the picture. The miracle of our survival is then a continuing drama.
The first rule of survival – both physical and spiritual – is to recognize that there are enemies out there. No one likes defending their right to exist and we yearn for the acceptance and validation that other nations enjoy, but which, in the history of our two thousand year old exile, we have found to be elusive. We fear being perceived as paranoid and as xenophobic. However, this fear is often the Achilles heel; our inability to stand our ground without apology. To determine our fate we need to look for heroes and role models from the past
One of the real heroes of our continued struggle for survival, is Daniel (of lion’s den fame). He faced both of the kinds of enemies we have faced: those who want us to disappear, and are willing to sacrifice every bit of their own humanity to make it happen, and those who want us to survive by becoming mirror images of them. They are willing to let us be as long as we don’t really exist. Daniel survived without committing the cardinal sin of the persecuted; becoming what we hate.
He was separated from his family at the beginning of the Babylonian exile. With the fall of the monarchy and the destruction of Jerusalem, the Davidic royal family were expelled to Babylon, where Daniel was chosen to be one of the “privileged” children who would live in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. Nebuchadnezzar’s goal was to redefine the best and brightest of the Jewish children so that their energy, drive, and brilliance would become part of the Babylonian regime. Their Judaism would be forgotten, and they would a new identity willingly. Daniel’s name was changed to Belshazzar.
The question was though, whether he would make the decision to remain Daniel or whether he would become Belshazzar.
His first move was to refuse to eat the food that came out of the royal kitchen. This would not be an easy choice even for an adult. It would be almost impossible for most children, but Daniel understood that Judaism has to do with real world choices that affect your life. The servant in charge of the children’s maintenance was appalled. He would be held accountable for what he saw as an almost suicidal choice. Daniel refused to compromise. He survived on fruits and nuts and seeds.
His next move was to face up to Nebuchadnezzar who knew about his stubborn determination to remain Daniel. The Midrash tells us (Breishis Rabba 88:13) that Nebuchadnezzar had an unusual pet. He kept a snake which would consume anything that came too close. Daniel asked permission to approach and took out a bag of straw mixed with nails. The snake consumed the offering and died at Daniel’s feet.
Daniel was responding to Nebuchadnezzar’s symbolic message. Nebuchadnezzar was declaring that his civilization could swallow up any rival culture. He had conquered the entire known world, and the very idea of resistance was foreign. Daniel “answered” by showing him that when the same consumes nails, it would fail. The core personality of the Jews as a whole is as strong as steel, and survives those who endeavor to devour it whole.
In the course of time, Daniel’s intellectual brilliance took him to the highest levels of governance. Belshazzar was a name that everyone knew. Daniel was still the core identity of the Babylon’s rising star. Nebuchadnezzar’s ministers instituted the concept of a national religion. Their intent wasn’t religious by its nature; it was political. Religion was to become a means of taking the disparate members of Babylon’s polyglot population and homogenize them. Daniel made a point of praying at the window of his residence facing Jerusalem. He could have chosen the path of least resistance and prayed in a room where his rebellion against the latest decree would remain his own business. Instead, he decided to make a statement of principle. If your grandparents had a charity box where their coins went to rebuilding Israel, at a time when Israel was a concept rather than a reality, then they too had a bit of Daniel within them. His resistance led to the famous “lion’s den” story. Daniel was sentenced to death but his fate was in the hands of G-d, not the hands of humans. His survival was a miracle, but to tell you the truth, your survival as a Jew is not less of a miracle.
The issue that faces you isn’t physical survival. The vast majority of people who read this article are not in imminent danger of being killed. You are endangered by the difficulty of living in a tolerant society and still choosing to be Daniel rather than Belshazzar. The only way to make the choice more authentic is to learn more about what the Daniel within you represents. You have been exposed to Belshazzar for as long as you remember. But to make a truly educated choice, you owe it to yourself and to the generations past, to choose to be educated!
The Foundations of Tish B’Av – Modiin, July 30th, 2014
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