Feet of ClayBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that greatly disturbed him. He summoned all his astrologers and sorcerers to interpret it for him. There was a wrinkle, however: the king had forgotten the dream, so he expected his advisors to tell him both the dream and its interpretation.
“No problem,” said his advisors, “just tell us the dream and we’ll interpret it for you.”
“You don’t seem to be getting it, ” Nebuchadnezzar replied. “I’ve forgotten it. Now tell me both the dream and its meaning or I’ll have you chopped into itty-bitty pieces and your houses razed to the ground. If you can interpret it for me, I’ll see to it that you get great honor and riches.”
The sorcerers said, “Perhaps your majesty does not understand how this transaction works. You tell us the dream and we interpret it.”
“Okay,” said Nebuchadnezzar, “it’s clear that you’re just stalling for time, but you’re not getting any. If you can’t tell me the dream, you’re useless to me. And don’t try making something up, because I’ll know it when I hear it!”
The advisors were understandably upset by their king’s insistence. “No one on Earth can do the thing you ask, which is why no king has ever demanded it before! It would take an angel in Heaven, not someone here on Earth!”
Since his advisors were clearly useless, Nebuchadnezzar gave the word to have them gathered for execution. They came for Daniel and his friends, among the other royal advisors. Daniel told the officer in charge of executions, whose name was Aryoch, that the decree seemed kind of excessive. When Aryoch told Daniel the story, Daniel went to the king and asked for three days to come up with the dream and its meaning. Stay of execution granted, Daniel and his friends began to pray that the secret should be revealed. Sure enough, Daniel received Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in a vision and he blessed G-d for His kindness.
Daniel told Aryoch not to execute the sages of Babylonia because he had solved the mystery. Aryoch went to the king and took credit for discovering Daniel, apparently unaware that Daniel had already spoken directly to Nebuchadnezzar. The king asked Daniel if this were so and Daniel replied that what Nebuchadnezzar had requested was beyond the ability of any mortal being, but not beyond G-d, Who knows all and reveals what He wishes to.
“G-d has given your majesty a vision of the end times,” Daniel said. “I was not given the secret because I’m so wise, I’m just the instrument to make the dream known to you. What you saw in your dream was a huge image with a head of gold, arms and chest of silver, stomach and thighs of copper, and legs of iron, leading to feet that were iron mixed with ceramic. You saw a rock hit the image on the feet, its weakest point, and the whole thing collapsed in a heap. That was the dream; now I’ll tell you its meaning.”
“G-d has made you the ruler of mighty kingdom, with dominion all over the world. You are the head of gold. The kingdom that will follow you will be mighty, but inferior – that’s the chest and arms of silver. The next kingdom, less impressive still, is the stomach and thighs of copper. The fourth kingdom is the legs of iron – they will break everything Iike weapons of iron. But the feet are mixed with pottery because that kingdom will be divided into factions, some stronger than others. And they won’t be united, just like iron doesn’t mix with earthenware. ”
“G-d will ultimately establish another kingdom, which will never be conquered by another. It will dismantle all of these kingdoms, like the rock you saw. This is what will happen in the future; G-d is reliable to bring it about.”
Nebuchadnezzar knew that this was his dream and its correct interpretation. He fell on the ground at Daniel’s feet (which Daniel permitted) and he wanted to offer incense to him (which Daniel didn’t allow). “I see that your G-d is supreme, since only He could reveal the secret,” Nebuchadnezzar said. He gave Daniel many gifts and promoted him over the whole land and all his other wise men. Daniel asked that his three friends be promoted to assist him, a request that was granted.
Now, as for the identity of the four kingdoms, the gold head is clearly Babylonia, since it says as much in the text. But who are the others? Most commentators agree that the silver chest and arms are the Persian empire, the copper stomach and thighs are Greece, and the iron legs are Rome. The Ibn Ezra, however, considers the third kingdom to include both Greece and Rome, while the fourth kingdom includes the Muslims and the Turks. (There are similar differences of opinion when the four kingdoms are depicted as horses and riders in the sixth chapter of Zechariah.)