What is free will when HaShem is all knowing and powerful? I came across a story in the Talmud that gave an entrance to discuss the idea. Page 93a is at large discussing the resurrection of the dead and specifically talking about the righteous who cover for the sins of the less righteous. When Daniel, Ezekiel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah lived in Babylonia, righteousness and Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatry were at odds. Now, opinions vary why humans choose anything despite an all-knowing Deity. But we learn from Daniel that HaShem is capable of making all our choices make sense despite limited human understanding of any situation.
Translation Of The Story
And Daniel, where did he go? Rav Said, “to dig the great river in Tiberias.” And Shmu’el said, “to bring excellent Alphalfa Seed.” And R. Yohanan said, “to bring the best pigs from Alexandria, Egypt.” Really, [Pigs from Egypt]? But, it is taught: Todos the doctor said, “Aren’t there no cattle or pig leaving Alexandria, Egypt whose mother’s wombs are not severed, so that she will not give birth?” They were small [pigs], [so the Egyptians] didn’t know [Daniel] took them.
The sages taught: Three were partners in that plan: The Holy One, Blessed is He, and Daniel, and Nebuchadnezzer.
The Holy One, Blessed be He said, “Daniel will go from here[Babylonia], that they not say [Daniel] delivered them [Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah] by [Daniel’s] own virtue.”
And Daniel said, ” I will go from here [Babylonia], so it will not be fulfilled in me, [Deut 7:25] “the idols of their gods, you shall burn in fire.”
And Nebuchanezzer said, “Daniel will go from here[Babylonia], so they will not say, “[Nebuchadnezzer] burned his god [Daniel] in awesome [fire].” And where is it derived that he [Nebuchadnezzer] worshiped him [Daniel]? As it is written[in Daniel 2:46], “then King Nebuchadnezzer fell on his face and worshiped Daniel, etc.”
The Short Interpretation
In the time of Daniel’s exile, he and his companions had the unfortunate job of serving king Nebuchanezzer, who according to the rabbis was prone to fall and worship anything that amazed him in the moment. Daniel had amazed him with his interpretation of his dreams, so he worshiped Daniel like an idol, even though Daniel was not. Likewise, he worshiped Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah as idols after the furnace incident. Nebuchadnezzer was an easily seduced idolator. Daniel was the opposite.
There were three reasons given for Daniel’s departure from Babylonia. Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, and HaShem all had there reason to go from Babylonia. HaShem is the savior; but the plans of the wicked and the righteous are aspects of His salvation and purpose for Daniel.
In this story, Daniel leaves Babylonia at the order of Nebuchadnezzar, in order to conduct international trade for the benefit of Babylonia. This occurs just prior to Nebuchadnezzar setting up the big idol for all humanity to worship (Daniel 3). The main point is that HaShem orchestrates everything for the success of the righteous. We see Daniel protect himself, lest he be killed because he is an idol to Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar sends Daniel away because he knows he is about to make a rule that will bind himself to kill his idol Daniel, if he stays. Yet each of these reasons point to HaShem’s judgement of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylonia, and the salvation of Israel through the righteous. Even though each one had their own understanding of the legal situation, HaSHem harmonized their perspectives to His own will.
Do you think Nebuchadnezzar was an easily seduced idolator? HaShem’s will be done; What does free will really mean?