Daniel was one of Israel’s most promising young leaders. He was taken to serve the Babylonian king in Babylonia even before the destruction of the first Temple (422 BCE/ 3338).
Despite having to spend so many of his best years in the close company of violent and corrupt idol worshipers, Daniel remained true to the religion of his fathers. Not only that, but he actually excelled to the point where he merited to receive prophecy.
His relationship with G-d was apparent in more than one way. Daniel was able to interpret the dream of Nevudchadnezzer (see Daniel 2)- a dream that contained a vision of the world’s future until the end of time. He was also able to interpret the “handwriting on the wall” that appeared before the Babylonian king, Belshazzar (see Daniel 5). In addition, he had a number of visions of his own, many of which also concerned the end of time (and the coming of the Messiah).
All the secrets of the world’s history (and future) are here in the book of Daniel. But not all the secrets are open for just anyone to see. For one thing, a large portion of the book is written in difficult and sometimes ambiguous Aramaic, rather than the Hebrew of the rest of Tanach (the Bible). The book was purposely written so that it would not be too easy for anyone to get too much classified information. It’s all there, but you need the key to unlock the doors.
If you count up the books of the Tanach you will see that there are 24 books in Tanach (the Bible). This is true only if you count Ezra and Nehemia together as one book. These days, you’ll usually see these two books printed separately, but our rabbis tell us that the greater part of both books was written by Nehemia. Hence these books would have originally been printed as one book with one title – “Nehemia”.
Why was it later “divided?” According to the Talmud Bavli (Sanhedrin 93b) Nehemia “lost” half of his book due to some tiny mistake in judgement; an ill-chosen word. This is an example of how G-d is most particular with those whom He is closest with.
Either way, the books of Ezra and Nehemia are accounts of the return of many Jews from their exile in Babylonia and their rebuilding of the Temple. As much as the books tell of the rebirth of the Jewish state, they also discuss the many hurdles that had to be overcome in that process.
Of the many tens of thousands of Jews in Babylonia and neighboring countries, very few actually listened to Ezra’s call, and the new community was sorrowfully small. Samaritans constantly attacked the Jews with arrows and swords, hoping to force them to give up the building. Eventually, the Samaritans slandered the Jews before the King, and asked him to force the Jews to stop building their Temple. It would be years before the work on the city walls and the Temple would continue.
All of the delays and disappointments discouraged the settlers.That, along with a leadership void during the time that Ezra was out of the country, caused a serious weakness in Mitzva (commandment) observance. The point was reached where there were Jews who actually intermarried with the neighboring tribes!
When the Temple was finally completed, it was a only a subdued celebration. The songs of joy were drowned out by the cries of sadness from those who still remembered the grandeur of the first Temple. But the Temple was completed nevertheless, and this second Temple would serve the Jewish people for 420 years.
Note: as to Ramban’s “Temple hold-up ” – see Bamidbar (16, 21) – the Jews’ failure to ask…
Rabbi Boruch Clinton teaches at the Ottawa Torah Institute yeshiva high school and Machon Sarah high school for girls (both in Ottawa, Canada). You may reach him with comments and questions at [email protected].
You can now access Rabbi Clinton’s collection of new essays on the book of Shmuel (Samuel) by clicking here.