Judging from the mass of different midrashim composed during the Talmudic period which attempt to come to grips with the significance of the Akedah (the story of the binding of Isaac), it is clear that the sages were both perplexed and inspired by this anguishing story. Avraham, a man promised both land and progeny, is miraculously blessed by God with a child well after both he and his wife, Sarah, could have expected to bear children. After all this tribulation, Avraham was confronted by a divine command which tested the depths of his faith in God. He was asked to offer up Yitzhak, the son of his old age, as a sacrifice to God. Could he and should he trust in God and carry out the divine will. The “given” of the plot is that he does and God ultimately stays his hand, upholding the divine promise and justifying Avraham’s faith in Him. For the sages, this “test” marks the “heroic” Avraham as the man of faith extraordinaire, ultimately justifying God’s choosing him as the purveyor of His message to the world. (See Bereishit Rabbah 55:1 Theodore-Albeck ed. 584-5)
Avraham’s faith in God was exceptional but such faith cannot serve as a paradigm for other less “heroic” humans to follow. Moreover, the story itself and Avraham’s zeal frighten us and, apparently, the sages were well aware that Avraham’s action were not for everyone. They ask: “Could you do what Avraham did?” A later midrash suggested an alternative faith hero, someone more fit to be a role than Avraham – the biblical Daniel. Who was Daniel? He was a Jewish youth, taken into Babylonian captivity when the First Temple was destroyed to serve in the court of the Babylonian king.
How was his faith tested? His was the Jewish test for the ages. When faced with living in a non-Jewish environment, would he and his friends stand up for their faith and live Jewish lives despite the challenges of living in a foreign environment or would they succumb to assimilation, to disappear from the Jewish faith and the Jewish people? Daniel and his friends firmly but politely stood up for their ability to live as Jews even while serving the king. They asked and received the right to keep kosher, to pray as Jews, and to observe Shabbat – they proudly lived as Jews with faith and dignity. (See Daniel chapter 1; Tanhuma Buber Vayera 43)
For this midrash, Daniel was a model of faith that all generations of Jews could emulate. He was a living affirmation of maintaining one’s identity and faith while integrating into the world. I suppose then that Daniel should be considered one of the unsung heroes to remember this Rosh Hashanah.