Weekly Cycle

Friday, December 17, 2010

Daniel in the Parasha, the Torah Portion of Miketz

This week's Torah portion describes Joseph's rise to power, after he had faced so much suffering and difficulties. His salvation comes through correctly interpreting Pharaoh's dream. Before giving his interpretation, Joseph famously states, "Bilada'y," the interpretation does not come from me, but from G-d. After years of hardship, Joseph saw very clearly that all that we have, including any successes along the way, comes from G-d, not us.

Joseph's power to interpret dreams brings to mind the prophet Daniel, who perhaps is more famously known for the fact that he was saved from the lion's den. Chapter 2 of the Book of Daniel depicts how, not only was Daniel able to interpret the emperor's dream, he actually had to tell the emperor the dream itself, because the latter had forgotten it. Daniel, like Joseph, attributes all of his success to G-d.

Just like Joseph received a new name from Pharaoh, Tzafnat Pa'aneach (revealer of hidden secrets), so too does Daniel receive a new name from the Babylonian emperor: Belteshazzar. Rashi explains that "Bel" is a name of a Babylonian god, and that "Teshazzar" is an Aramaic expression denoting wisdom. Perhaps one can also interpret the name to mean that wisdom come from being in the state of "Bli" (feeling devoid of something), as in Joseph's statement, "Bilada'y." Regarding "Bilada'y," Rashi comments: "בִּלְעָדָי. The wisdom is not mine, but God will answer."

These letters, Beit and Lamed, are the very first and the very last letters of the Torah. Much has been written about how, when inverted, they form the word Lev, heart, and how the letters have the numerical value of 32, of the "32 Paths of Wisdom," often mentioned in this blog). Perhaps equally important is the understanding that wisdom comes from Beit-Lamed, from Joseph's Bilada'y and Daniel's name, Belteshazzar, which also are contained respectively in the beginning and in the end, of the Tanach. (In Kabbalistic texts, it is explained that the Hebrew word for "wisdom," Chochmah, also stands for Koach Mah, the power that comes from knowing that we are Mah, "what/nothing.") This is in fact the beginning and the end of all of history, since, as we learn in Proverbs, wisdom was created before Creation itself, and the Talmud states that Mashiach, if he comes from the dead, will be like Daniel.


Why does the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b) state that if Mashiach comes from the living, then he is like Rabbeinu HaKadosh (Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi), and if he comes from the dead then he is like Daniel, Ish Chamudoth (the desired man)? In my humble opinion, this statement has to be understood in light of another Talmudic statement (Berachot 18a-b), that the righteous are called alive even after their death, while the wicked are called dead even while they are alive. (This was touched upon slightly in last week's parasha's blog post, here)

Rabbeinu HaKadosh is the quintessential Tzadik Gamur (completely righteous). He said about himself that he did not benefit even "a little finger" from this world. In line with the above, Sefer Chassidim states that even after his passing, he would come to his home on Friday evenings to make Kiddush for his family.
Daniel, like Rabbeinu HaKadosh, is a direct descendant from quintessential Ba'alei Teshuvah, King David and Judah. Daniel is also the Ba'al Teshuvah. He was punished by Heaven for a mistake he committed when advising the evil Nebuchadnezzar. He told the emperor to give tzedakah and thereby stave off Divine retribution. The Talmud (Bava Basra 4a) states that the character of Hatach in the Purim Megillah is none other than Daniel. Hatach means "cut off," a reference to how, according to one opinion, Daniel was demoted from this position. According to the other opinion, Hatach is a reference to how royal matters were "Nechtachin" (decided) through him. There are two opinions as to Daniel's punishment: either it was that he was demoted from his position in government or that it was that he was thrown into the lion's den.


Daniel's being thrown to the lion's den is also connected to the story of Joseph, who was thrown into a pit by his brothers. This brings us back to last week's Parashah, in which Torah states that, "the pit was empty, it had no water." Rashi asks, why does the Torah need to tell us that it had no water, if it already told us it was empty: "תלמוד לומר אין בו מים, מים אין בו אבל נחשים ועקרבים יש בו: [To inform us that] there was no water in it, but there were snakes and scorpions in it. [From Shab. 22a, Chag. 3a]"

Here again, like in last week's blog (here) there is an example of how the Torah is one long name of Hashem, and that the text's spacing can be read slightly differently in a way that includes Rashi's interpretation:

"And they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal." In Hebrew:

וַיִּקָּחֻהוּ וַיַּשְׁלִכוּ אֹתוֹ הַבֹּרָה וְהַבּוֹר רֵק אֵין בּוֹ מָיִם: וַיֵּשְׁבוּ לֶאֱכָל לֶחֶם

It was pointed out to me recently, that וַיֵּשְׁבוּ, could be read as וַיֵּשְׁ בוּ, "and there was in it," which the same terminology used by Rashi. It was noted to me that the following letter is a Lamed, which is shaped like a snake or a scorpion. I believe that perhaps a better interpretation is that וַיֵּשְׁ בוּ לֶאֱכָל לֶחֶם, should be read as, "and there was in it something that could eat [Joseph] as a meal" or could "make him hot" (leCham), like the venom of a snake.

Interestingly, when it comes to Joseph, not only is it not considered a miracle that Joseph was saved from the snakes and scorpions, but in fact, the Torah states that this was Reuben's plan to save Joseph, by taking him away from his brothers and out of the pit later.

(It is worth noting that the Torah does not make this miracle explicit like it does regarding Daniel. Similarly, Abraham's miracle regarding the fiery furnace is also not made explicit, while the Tanach states unequivocally that Daniel's colleagues, Mishael, Chananiah, and Azariah, were saved after being thrown into a fiery furnace as well).

There are many explanations regarding Reuven's actions, and how they could be considered by the Torah to be an act of saving Joseph. The Orach Chayim states, based on the Zohar, that men have free choice while animals do not. Another explanation I heard from Rabbi Moshe Matts, is the principle of Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker, when it comes to issues of the eternity of the Jewish people (and in this case, the continuity of the Tribes of Joseph), the world does not have a say: our continuity is a given, and therefore the snakes and scorpions could not touch Joseph.

Perhaps a simpler answer is that both in the case of Daniel and Joseph there was not any doubt that they would be saved because from the time of Creation, G-d placed the fear of man upon the animal kingdom, because man has a Tzelem Elokim, the Divine image. Daniel did not lose this image, and therefore the animals feared him. (Zohar Shemot 125B) Similarly, Joseph had also not lost his Tzelem Elokim, and therefore the snakes and scorpions feared him as well.

Finally, it is also fascinating to see how that the animals related to the tests of Daniel and Joseph, lions and snakes and scorpions, respectively, are related to the two men. As mentioned before, Daniel is a descendant of King David and Judah, who were known in the Torah as "lions." Joseph says about himself, “Haloh Yedatem Ki Nachesh Yenachesh Ish Asher Kamoni.” Nachash in Hebrew means snake. Joseph was particularly capable of fighting off the Primordial Snake, the yetzer harah, such as in the case of Potiphar's seduction.

Even the dreams which each of the two great men had to interpret were very much connected to their respective personal stories. Pharaoh's dreams had cows and ears of grain. Joseph is compared to an ox by Jacob and Moshe, and one of his own dreams described in the Torah contained sheaves of wheat. Pharaoh's dreams were about seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and Joseph himself had experienced, more than once, how disaster can strike unexpectedly and one can go from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream was about how his kingdom would decay and diminish in power over the generations, and Daniel himself had just experienced how the Davidic dynasty had decayed and become corrupted until ultimately conquered by Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Hashem has special ways of preparing us for the challenges we face. Life's tests are a preparation and a rectification, a tikkun, the purpose of which we often do not understand at the time. Sometimes we have to go through so much in order to be ready for what is to come. The Davidic dynasty was "cut off" only to rise again in Messianic times. May it be soon, and may we merit to see with our own eyes all that for which we have been preparing so arduously and for so long.

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