Alexander the Great conquered scores of lands and many nations. From the shores of his native Macedonia, he sailed into Asia Minor and even beyond. He was fearless in battle and never shrank from the enemy. He encountered numerous strange peoples and languages and this appealed to his sense of intellectual curiosity.
Alexander went beyond the land of Israel, past the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, through the Persian plains, past Afghanistan until he reached the fabled land of India, led by the mighty King Purus.
When Purus heard that the mighty Greek King Alexander was coming, he sent word to him: “Do not enter my land lest I destroy both you and your armies with the sword.”
Alexander was not deterred and replied that he was unafraid. Purus thereupon gathered together his mighty army and a vast number of elephants and other specially-trained wild beasts famous for their discipline in battle and ferociousness.
When Alexander heard of the horde of wild beasts, he grew worried, for his soldiers had never before faced animals in battle. He decided to disguise himself and enter the enemy camp to see what he could discover that might be of some help to him against the enemy.
Approaching the Indian camp, Alexander was seen by the sentries and captured. He was taken before Purus who asked him:
“Who are you?”
“I was a soldier in the camp of Alexander, and I fell out with him,” he said. “After years of serving him faithfully and following him about, he treated me like a dog. I have come to you mighty King Purus to offer you my services as a soldier against Alexander and the Greeks.”
“Very well,” answered Purus, “you may join my armies and watch as we destroy Alexander with our animals.”
Alexander joined the Indian camp and became friendly with the soldiers. He had taken a great deal of money and precious jewels with him and these he lavished generously on the soldiers with whom he became acquainted.
The soldiers came to like the Greek stranger very much and accepted him as their own. Alexander was using this comradery, however, as an attempt to pry information from the soldiers on how to fight against wild animals.
One day, as he lounged in a tent with some of the Indians soldiers, he said:
“I have seen the vicious animals that are gathered in the camp waiting for the battle against the Greeks to begin and I was very happy. For I said to myself, Alexander and his armies will taste defeat for the first time.
“I have been thinking, however, of the cunning mind that Alexander possesses and I have been fearful that he will find some way of coming up with a means of defeating them.”
The soldiers laughed and said: “Listen, friend, these animals that you have seen in the camp are all vicious and well-trained animals. They fear nothing except one thing, and that not even Alexander will be able to find out.”
Alexander, hearing these words, knew that he was on the verge of discovering the secret. Feigning indifference, he said:
“You do not know Alexander, though. Unless the secret is very, very difficult, he may discover it after all.”
“It is impossible,” said the soldiers. “The one thing that can defeat these animals is fire and there is none among us who would tell the Greeks that secret.”
That night, when darkness had fallen on the camp, Alexander stealthily went through the lines, past the sentries and made his way back to the Greek camp. His soldiers were overjoyed to see him for they thought that he had surely been killed.Rabbi Sholom Klass