The great flood and Alexander the not so great

The Midrash makes it seem like God has some explaining to do. God is wiping out almost all of mankind, yet carefully preserving every kind of animal. Why the special privilege for animals? The easy answer is that God is setting up the basic requirements for a new world. He has enough people but there are many kinds of animals that need to be preserved for the post-flood world. 

Even so, the optics are bad. So much human destruction and such meticulous care for animal life. The Midrash offers an answer. Unfortunately, it’s a bit cryptic and not easily understood, it comes in the form of a verse in Tehillim: 

צִדְקָתְךָ֨ ׀ כְּֽהַרְרֵי־אֵ֗ל מִ֭שְׁפָּטֶיךָ תְּה֣וֹם רַבָּ֑ה אָ֤דָֽם וּבְהֵמָ֖ה תוֹשִׁ֣יעַ הֹ’ ׃

 “Your righteousness is like mighty mountains; Your judgements will feel like the great depths; God will save those who are deserving among man and animals.” (Tehillim 36:7)

The Midrash brings a story to solve the conundrum:

Alexander the great misnomer. 

The world had dubbed him Alexander the Great. The Midrash refers to him by his formal name, Alexander of Macedonia. Where did Alexander get his “great” title from? He took over for his father at the age of 20. In just 10 years he conquered most of the known world, creating one of the largest empires in history. The world considers that pretty great, however the Midrash shows that Alexander is anything but great.

In this story, Alexander visited the king of קַצְיָא, Katzia – a mysterious land identified only as לַאֲחוֹרֵי הָרֵי חשֶׁךְ “behind the dark mountains.” (Midrash Rabbah Noach 33:1). At first, the king was concerned about what intentions Alexander had in visiting his land. Was he friend or foe? Alexander assured him that he simply wanted to observe how justice is dispensed in this faraway land. Indeed there was an intriguing case that came before the king for judgment. Someone – let’s call him party A – sold a dunghill to someone else – party B. It was subsequently discovered that great riches lie beneath this land. Much to the surprise of Alexander, party A was not trying to annul the sale – just the opposite. They claimed that party B purchased the land and deserved whatever riches that were unearthed there. Ironically it is party B that was upset. They claimed that party A would never have sold the land so cheaply if they knew that there were great riches embedded in it. Therefore the riches should be returned to party A. 

The king asked party A if they have a son. They did. The king asked party B if they have a daughter. They did. The king’s solution was for the son and daughter to get married. That way both families will enjoy the riches that lay beneath the land.

Alexander was greatly flabbergasted.

The king asked if Alexander’s reaction was due to the fact that he questioned the fairness of the king’s ruling. Alexander said that if such a case was brought before him he would have killed  both parties to the dispute and kept the gold for himself. The king was taken aback and asked Alexander if the country he lived in is blessed with rain? It is hard for the king to understand how such a despicable king would deserve such a blessing. Alexander replied that his empire is indeed blessed with rain. The king can only think of one reason why Alexander’s kingdom would merit rain. He asked “Do you have farm animals in your kingdom?” When Alexander answered in the affirmative the king proclaimed. “The rain you receive is only for the benefit of the animals in your kingdom.” The Midrash concludes with the mysterious phrase
אָ֤דָֽם וּבְהֵמָ֖ה תוֹשִׁ֣יעַ הֹ ׃ “God will save those who are deserving among man and animals.” (Tehillim 36:7) However, the Midrash adds  אָדָם בִּזְכוּת בְּהֵמָה תּוֹשִׁיעַ הֹ’ “Mankind is saved in the merit of the animals.” (Ibid)

How does the story answer our theological questions?

What did Alexander mean when he said that he would have killed the litigants and taken the gold. Perhaps he meant that the two litigants are so antithetical to his belief system, that they should not exist in his world. 

The take away from the story seems to be that when mankind sinks to the level of Alexander the great, our theological questions are solved. Animals can be expected to act like animals and steal what is not theirs in order to survive. Call it the law of the jungle. However, what happens when mankind – specially someone mankind considers great – act like animals? You can’t blame God for starting again with Noach and saving the animals who were not at fault. 

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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