Babylonian VegansBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
In the final year of the reign of Yehoyakim, king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem. (This was the 11th year of Yehoyakim’s reign in total, but the text here calls it the third, as it was his third year of independent rule after rebelling against the Babylonians, whom he served as a vassal state.) G-d permitted Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Judah and to bring some of the Temple vessels to Babylonia; these he placed in the temples of his idols.
Nebuchadnezzar ordered that some of the best and brightest of the Jewish youths that had been brought to Babylonia should be trained to serve among his advisors. Those selected were trained for three years, during which time they were provided with food and wine from the king’s kitchen. There were four such young men who are of concern to us at this time: Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were given the Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, respectively.
Daniel was proactive in not wanting to partake of the non-kosher food and wine provided by Nebuchadnezzar’s staff. He asked if he and his three friends could receive raw vegetables, instead. The steward replied, “If you four lose weight, while everyone else bulks up, the king will chop my head off!” Daniel persuaded the officer to give them a ten-day trial period.
At the end of the ten-day trial, not only were Daniel and company not emaciated, they were heartier than the rest of the “management trainees!” (Their attendant reaped an additional benefit in that he got to keep their allotted portions for himself.) G-d gave all four of these young men great insight and wisdom. To Daniel, who had been proactive, He also gave the ability to interpret dreams and visions.
After their three years of training, the four youths were presented to Nebuchadnezzar, who tested them and found them to be more proficient than all his astrologers. They earned their appointments and Daniel would hold his position until the reign of Cyrus.