Rabbi Akiva said: "Everything is forseen, but a person always has freedom of choice..." (Avot 3:15)

Rabbi Joshua lived in Rome, and was recognized everywhere for his wisdom. At that time, the Romans were in the midst of a long drawn-out war against the Parthians, which they could not successfully win.

One day the Roman emperor saw Rabbi Joshua and began to speak to him rudely. “Rabbi, it is said that you are a very wise man. And your Jewish Sages teach that a wise man is even superior to a prophet. Is it true? Are you wiser than a prophet? Can you tell me what I will dream tonight?”

Rabbi Joshua saw that the emperor only wanted to embarrass him. He replied with sharp words, “Your majesty, tonight you will dream that you will fall into the hands of your despised enemies, the Parthians. They will torture you and force you to do hard labor!”

The emperor was shocked. Rabbi Joshua went on, “After you are captured, your enemies will throw stinking garbage at you with a golden rod.”

Now the emperor was really angry. “You lie, old man! I ought to have you killed. But I will let you live to see how foolish are your words. In my life, I have never had a dream in which I was so put to shame.”

Without another word, Rabbi Joshua left the emperor.

Alone, the emperor wondered about what the Jewish sage had said. "What did Rabbi Joshua mean?" he thought. ""My army is ten times larger and more powerful than the Parthians. How could they defeat me and take me captive? It makes no sense. And what is that golden rod?

"Could there really be truth in his words? Could his wisdom be prophetic? Am I fated to fall into the hands of my enemies!"

The emperor’s heart sank. He felt weak and nervous. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. “Oh woe!” he cried. “I would rather die than be defeated and captured in battle!”

His mind was awhirl. Rabbi Joshua's sharp words kept ringing in his ears. They haunted him. He could not get them out of his head. When they brought him food, he could not eat. When his counselors came to speak about government affairs, he could not concentrate. By evening, he was exhausted, a nervous wreck.

Finally, when he lay down on his bed, he tossed from side to side, till he fell into a fitful sleep. And even in his dream, he could not get the words of the Sage out of his mind. He saw himself in chains, tormented by his enemies, who threw garbage upon him with a golden rod.

It was just as Rabbi Joshua had predicted.

The words of the Sages are like burning coals. They may look on the outside like they are cold as stone, but inside they are a burning fire. And when a Sage makes a promise, it will surely be fulfilled.