The special haftarah for Hanukkah consists of three different visions. The vision most obviously connected to Hanukkah is the vision of the golden menorah. Still, the other visions in this haftarah also have Hanukkah connections. The haftarah’s second vision presents a vison of the High Priest from the time of the building of the Second Temple (some 300 years before the Hanukkah story), Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak, accused before a Heavenly court of certain transgressions of which God ultimately acquits him. God then commands Yehoshua and his associates to be loyal to God and His commandments so that they may be charged with the leadership of the people: “Hearken well, O High Priest, you and your fellows [priests] sitting before you! For these men are a sign (anshe mofet) …” (3:8)
Who were these “anshei mofet”? It might seem obvious to identify them with the priests who served under Yehoshua, the High Priest. However, since the Scriptural account does not identify them, the rabbinic tradition found different answers to this question. One account identified these “anshei mofet – men of signs or miracles” with “the prophets”. (Tosefta Horiyot 2:9 Zuckermandel ed. p. 476) Another tradition, found in the Talmud, associated them with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, also known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, the three friends of the biblical hero, Daniel. In a very famous story, these young heroes refused to bow down to the idolatrous image set up by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonia king, even though refusal meant punishment by being thrown into a fiery furnace. Ultimately, these friends were “miraculously” saved by God, surviving the fiery furnace unscathed. (See Daniel 3; Sanhedrin 93a)
The association of these youthful heroes with the story of Yehoshua, the high priest in Jerusalem, is an anachronism since their story took place in Babylonia a hundred years before the story of Yehoshua. This ahistorical association did not seem to bother the sages, who were more concerned with their didactic message than they were with historical accuracy.
The rabbinic sages and the Hasmonaean had good reason to identify with the book of Daniel. It is a made for Hanukkah story. Authored around the time of the Hasmonaean Revolt, it is, in part, a heroic tale about a Jewish youth named Daniel, who along with his above-mentioned friends, was taken captive to serve in the civil service of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. These youth were exemplary in their loyalty to God and the ways of Torah throughout their trials and tribulations while serving the Babylonian king. They ate kosher, prayed and lived as loyal Jews and as a consequence were miraculously saved any number of times. (This book is a biblical “must read” this Hanukkah!) Their heroic loyalty to the Jewish tradition made this foursome quite popular among the Hasmoneans who saw them as ideal figures, worthy of emulation. Is it any wonder that the sages wanted to associate them with Yehoshua, the High Priest?
Daniel and his friends are no less a model for those of us who choose to navigate our lives as Jews in the larger world. Maybe we should these “anshei mofet” our superheroes?