Daniel Asks, Gabriel AnswersBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
In the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, son of Ahasuerus (NOT the Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther), Daniel tried to calculate the end of the exile. (He wasn’t successful, though, because no one knew for sure when the seventy-year period began.) Daniel prayed to G-d, acknowledging that the people had sinned and disobeyed G-d’s word, which He sent through His prophets. G-d, he said, is righteous and the nation has been shamed. The people of the kingdom of Judah, including the residents of Jerusalem, and all the people of Israel have been driven into exile for abandoning G-d. But G-d is merciful and He did not eradicate the nation, even though they rebelled against Him.
Everybody ignored the will of G-d, which He expressed via His prophets. Therefore, they were subjected to the punishments that were promised in the Torah for such disobedience. (See the Tochacha – the Rebuke – that appears in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 29.) G-d fulfilled His word to hand them over to their enemies amid great chaos. Indeed, what happened in Jerusalem was unprecedented. And yet, even though all these prophecies have come to pass, the people still have not returned to G-d!
G-d was right to punish the Jews, since they didn’t listen to His instructions. He took them out of Egypt amid great glory and they metaphorically “stabbed Him in the back.” But since He is so righteous, Daniel asks if G-d could turn His wrath away from Jerusalem and the Temple mount, since the punishment the Jews have received for their sins has debased them in the eyes of the other nations, which reflects poorly on His Name. Daniel asked G-d to heed his prayer and to shine the light of His face on the site of the Temple, which lay desolate. G-d should see the state of His people and His city and act not because the nation is deserving, but because of His own inherent compassion. Daniel asks that G-d act quickly and not delay.
While he was praying, the angel Gabriel (whom Daniel had seen in his earlier vision) came flying towards him. (We are told that it was around the time of the afternoon service.) Gabriel said that he had been sent to enlighten Daniel; the angel told him that as soon as Daniel had started to pray, word was given to clarify Jeremiah’s prophecy of a 70-year exile, which Daniel had misunderstood. It’s not seventy years, it’s seventy “weeks of years” (i.e., seventy Sabbatical cycles), meaning 490 years! This period will wipe away their sins and ensure their righteousness. (According to Seder Olam, this 490 year period includes 70 years of exile before Temple reconstruction began and the 420 years that the second Temple stood.) From the time that the order is given to return to Jerusalem and rebuild until the “Prince” comes will be seven Sabbatical cycles (49 years); Jerusalem will be rebuilt – though oppressed – for 62 Sabbatical cycles. (If the math seems a little off, that’s because there were years in between, during which construction was suspended. We should mention that the “Prince” probably refers to Cyrus, though it possibly means Zerubabel or others.) After these 62 cycles are completed, the sacrifices, which were offered by the anointed kohanim (priests), will be discontinued. Then, the city and the Temple will be destroyed, but the one who destroys them will meet his end suddenly. (Rashi says this refers to the fate of the Romans – or their inheritors – in the Messianic era.) The city will be desolate until the final war (presumably the war of Gog and Magog, as described in Ezekiel 38-39). The leader of the enemy (the Roman emperor) will forge a pact with the Jews for one “week” (i.e., seven years), but for half of this “week,” he will disrupt the Temple sacrifices. (With the exception of the daily offering, all other sacrifices were suspended three years prior to the destruction of the Temple because of the siege. And, according to the Talmud in Gittin 56a, the siege lasted three years.) Idols, which are unliving abominations, will be erected in the Temple, until the designated time of its destruction.