Daniel in the Lions' DenBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Darius the Mede was 62 years old when he became king. Darius appointed 120 officials to help him in running the empire. There were three governors over them, of whom Daniel was one. Daniel excelled in his role, so the king considered appointing him prime minister, second only to himself. The other officers didn’t like this at all, so they conspired against him. They couldn’t find any legitimate complaints, since Daniel was faithful and honest. They decided to create a pretext by placing him in a situation where his religious obligations would force him to be insubordinate to the throne.
The officers went to Darius with the idea of a thirty-day ban on making requests of any man or “god” but the king. (The apparent motivation was to cement the new king’s authority.) Anyone who violated this law would be thrown into a pit of lions. This struck Darius as a good idea and he made it law.
Daniel, of course, had not been consulted about this plan. When he heard about the new law, he went home and prayed. (Obviously, he could not pray publicly in a synagogue with the new ban in place.) Despite the new law, he continued to pray three times a day, facing Jerusalem, just as he had before. Of course, this is exactly what his detractors expected him to do and they arranged to catch him at it. When they did, they reported him to the king.
The king wasn’t happy to have to throw Daniel to the lions since he was rather fond of him, but the law is the law! Darius tried to plead Daniel’s case, but the officers insisted that the law was immutable and no exceptions could be made. His hands tied, the king had to order Daniel tossed to the lions. He did, however, encourage Daniel that G-d would save him. A stone was placed over the pit, which was then sealed with the king’s signet and those of his advisors, to ensure that it was not opened.
Darius was so upset by this whole thing that he could neither eat nor sleep. He arose before dawn and went to the pit, where he cried over his friend. “Daniel, was your G-d able to save you from the lions?” Daniel answered that G-d sent an angel to close the lions’ mouths so they would not harm him. “Oh, and by the way,” Daniel added, “my praying wasn’t insubordination.”
The king was relieved and he ordered Daniel raised up out of the pit. He then ordered those who had framed Daniel thrown into the pit, followed by their wives and children. And, just to show that the lions hadn’t refrained from eating Daniel due to a lack of appetite, the ravenous lions pounced on their new victims even before they reached the ground.
Darius then wrote a letter to all the peoples of his empire declaring that the G-d of Daniel should be recognized as the Living G-d, Whose reign is eternal. G-d has the ability to save and to work wonders in Heaven and Earth, such as rescuing Daniel from the lions.
Daniel continued his successful career through the reigns of Darius and Cyrus the Persian.
A note on kings: The Darius in our chapter is Darius the Mede, son of Ahasuerus (who is NOT the Ahasuerus of the Purim story). He was succeeded by his son-in-law, Cyrus the Persian. Cyrus was succeeded by Ahasuerus (who IS the Ahasuerus of the Purim story). Ahasuerus was succeeded by his son, Darius the Persian. (Biblical historians will differ on this chronology, but this is the traditional list as per Seder Olam.)