Alexander Mukdon — also known as Alexander the Great — conquered country after country, as part of his quest to rule the world. During his travels, he arrived in Africa, where he was greeted by locals bearing apples, pomegranates, and bread — all made out of gold.
“Is gold eaten in your land?” Alexander asked them.
“Did you have nothing to eat in your place that you came to us?” the locals retorted.
“It isn’t your wealth that I came to see; I came to see your judicial rulings.”
As they were sitting two men came before the local king to settle their dispute.
“My master, the king,” one litigant related. “I bought ruins from this fellow. I cleaned it out and found a treasure with it. So I said to him, ‘Take your treasure, for I bought ruins and not a treasure.’”
Then the other litigant presented his case.
“Just as you are afraid of the punishment of taking stolen property, so too am I afraid of the punishment of taking stolen property! Now, when I sold you the ruins, I sold you everything in it, from the bowels of the earth to the tip of the heavens.”
The king turned to one of the litigants and asked him: “Do you have a son?”
“Yes,” the man replied.
He turned to the other litigant and asked, “Do you have a daughter?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Let them go and get married, and they should enjoy the treasure together,” the king replied.
Alexander expressed astonishment at the ruling.
“Why are you astonished?” the king inquired. “Didn’t I rule well?”
“Yes [you did],” Alexander acknowledged.
“What would you have done if you were to have such a case in your country?” the king asked Alexander.
“I would have had both men killed and the treasure would have gone to the king’s treasury,” Alexander replied.
“Does the sun shine in your land?” the king asked Alexander.
“Does the rain fall in your land?”
“Yes,” Alexander replied.
“Perhaps you have small domestic animals in your country?”
Once again Alexander replied in the affirmative.
“It is in the merit of the animals that the sun shines and the rains fall upon you!” the king declared. (Midrash Tanchuma, Emor)
Harav Yonason Eibuschitz, zt”l, uses this to homiletically explain a passuk in this week’s parashah.
When the Bnei Reuven and Bnei Gad came to Moshe Rabbeinu to ask to receive their portion of the land on the other side of the Yardein River, they listed the various cities they sought, and then added, “the land that Hashem smote before the Adas Yisrael — it is a land of livestock and your servants have livestock.” (Bamidbar, 32:4)
This refers to the lands previously occupied by the giant kings Sichon and Og.
Why did Hashem see fit that the Bnei Yisrael should conquer this land? Was it because of the sins of the previous inhabitants? Or was it because, like the lands across the river, this land was given by Hashem to the Bnei Yisrael because of His infinite love for us?
There is a key difference between these two approaches. If the conquest was solely because of the sins of the locals, if, R”l, the Bnei Yisrael would be lacking in their yiras Shamayim, they too would lose the right to the land.
As the story of Alexander illustrated, animals arouse merits as well. If the only reason was the sins of the inhabitants, the merit of the animals should have protected them from conquest.
Therefore, it must be that this is “the land that Hashem smote before the Adas Yisrael,” — it was because of the love Hashem has for the Adas Yisrael that the land was conquered, for “It is a land of livestock,” a land with animals.
It isn’t only merits that animals arouse.
After childbirth, a woman is obligated to bring two korbanos. If she can afford it, she should offer a sheep for an Olah, along with either young dove or a turtledove as a Chatas. If she can’t afford a sheep, she should bring two turtledoves or young doves.
When the sheep is offered, then it is preferable to bring a young dove rather than a turtledove. But when a bird is brought in place of a sheep, it is preferable to bring two turtledoves.
The Baal HaTurim gives a fascinating explanation: The turtledove remains loyal to its mate, and if the mate dies or disappears, it will never “remarry.”
As long as two are being taken, then no one turtledove is being left alone. But when one turtledove is being offered, this means that its mate will be left alone. In that case, in Hashem’s infinite mercy on all creatures, He instructed that it is preferable to take a young dove — a creature that will “remarry.”
It is humbling for humans to think that animals can arouse merits of their own, and the fact the Ribbono shel Olam exhibits such mercy on all His creatures is itself a great lesson. If He worries about a lonely turtledove, how much more so is Hashem concerned with a lonely Yid!