Heading into this match-up, all bets are on the powerful hunk of animated mud, known as the Golem, created by Rabbi Judah Loeb of Prague to protect the community against pogroms in the sixteenth century. Clocking in at over 6 feet tall, with a whole lotta muscle, this creature is a force of nature when it comes to basketball. The underdog in this match is the “Big Fish” (sometimes referred to as a whale or “great fish”—nicknames are common in this game, sports fans) that appeared in the story of Jonah and swallows him whole. No match in strength to the Golem, the fish will have to swim to the top with agility and strategy. Will he be able to do it?
Mensch Madness Game 3 gets started in a BIG way!
Though the Golem is unmatched in strength, his weakness lies in his lack of clear strategy. Moving without thinking through the consequences, he leaves himself wide open, and the Big Fish easily steals the ball! That creature from the deep has the incredible ability to anticipate moves before they happen— he seems to be exactly in the right place at the right time to steal the ball from the Golem.
Not outplayed yet, the Golem goes back to his basics. He deals struggles in the world in one solid way: he faces them aggressively and openly. Once the fish steals the ball and swims to the other side of the court, the Golem doesn’t take time to re-group and work through his strategy. He attacks with full force, expelling a lot of energy and putting himself in a very vulnerable place. He lunges for the ball and misses by a few inches and the fish ducks back. This fish is practiced in the game of waiting. The fish sat for three days and three nights with Jonah kicking around his belly. He can handle some patience on the court!
Big Fish represents a very different method of dealing with struggles in the world: he takes some time for introspection, working through the best possible approaches and consequences before acting. Knowing the Golem’s weaknesses and brute strength, the fish never tries to fight for the ball but instead waits for a moment the Golem is lacking in defense.
As the massive fish swims across the court in a few sluggish movements, stopping to consider the consequences, the Golem easily catches up and steals the ball while the fish is deep in thought. The Golem runs back across the court and dunks the ball. It looks like the game is over when suddenly…
Oh, man! What a move!
After days of strategizing before the game, looks like the fish discovered the Golem’s biggest flaw: the word Emet (“truth”) written on the Golem’s head. This word, composed of the Hebrew letters aleph, mem, tav symbolizes the life of the Golem, given to him by God. With the flap of a flipper, the fish reaches over and covers the aleph, leaving the letters mem and tav, or the Hebrew word met (“death”). And the Golem is down for the count!
Don’t worry, Golem fans. His coach’ll have him back up and lurching soon. But this game is over!
With drastically different strengths, both players gave this game their best. In the end, the fish’s strategy for change making is more sustainable. Big Fish looks at the big picture, and earns a spot in the next round!
Welcome back to the arena for the second game in our series of Mensch Madness: The Creatures of Judaism. Both of our contenders are underdogs (not that either of them are literally dogs—one team isn’t even mammalian!) who never imagined that they’d make it this far.
On one side of the court, we have The Frogs. Yes, the frogs from the ten plagues—they hopped here all the way from ancient Egypt. They’ve accumulated assists in previous games by annoying Pharaoh into letting the Jews go. Unfortunately, their win was short-lived, as Pharaoh changed his mind and refused to let the Jews leave. Ultimately, their W was changed to an L.
On the other side, we have Baxter the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. Although he wasn’t successful in becoming kosher, Baxter had a slam dunk in learning about Judaism. His pre-game ritual of downing pickles and challah has served him well in the past, and we’re excited to see how he’ll compete in today’s game.
The ball is tossed to start the game, and the frogs have a big advantage with their vertical leap. Frogs have first possession, and Baxter can’t focus with all the frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes. Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere. The game has barely begun and there is already a penalty for too many players on the court. Baxter gets to take a foul shot and….it’s good!
As the game continues… Baxter is really hogging the ball today. His confidence has grown and Baxter flies across the court to score again! The frogs call a time out to regroup and come up with a new, ribbeting play. These frogs come to us from an area where basketball isn’t very popular and they’re still getting accustomed to the rules. These guys tried to come onto the court today with open-toad shoes! Come on, frogs! Do better.
As for Baxter, he’s conferring with his coaches on the game, thus far, and developing their own plan for winning.
Time out is over! The frogs and pig are back at it, fighting for the win as the game clocks winds down. It appears that Baxter has been practicing and hammed up his offense! He is wiping the floor with these frogs today, and they are hopping mad! In a turn for the worst, the frogs seem to have lost focus. Aaaand, there are flies on the sideline… and now the frogs are going after the flies.
All of the frogs have left the court, leaving our treif-rific friend Baxter with the win. In the least-kosher matchup in our series, we’re excited to see this little piggy go wee wee wee, all the way to the next game.
I am very active personally and professionally in the New Orleans Jewish community. Recently, I began teaching a beginner adult education class entitled “The Stories of Genesis and Exodus.” This eight week series is free and open to the public with no prior knowledge required.
On our first day of class, I had everyone introduce themselves and say a sentence or two about what they hoped to learn. The make-up of this class is very interesting. The students include three individuals who are in the process of converting to Judaism; one Catholic who has been married to a Jew and participating in Jewish life for over 20 years; and one woman who identifies as Christian but recently learned of her Jewish heritage and wants a full understanding of what Jews believe and what our holidays are all about.
“I am here to learn THE truth,” this last student said.
And suddenly I realized the serious responsibility of teaching Torah to beginners.
Many years ago, I taught another group of adult beginners—those brave enough to attempt an adult beginner ballet class. Back then, I recall how surprised I was by how much more difficult it was to slow myself down. To go back to the basics, and teach new learners the concepts behind the techniques, even before breaking down the physical basics, bit by bit. I was usually extremely exhausted and sore after those classes, unlike going through my regular motions teaching intermediate and advanced classes. You would think a beginner class, with no advanced moves and only basic skill-building, would be easy! But making sure we have the core concepts and basic moves down, going from nothing to step one, is sometimes the hardest step of all.
Teaching Torah is no different.
While I thought it would be simpler, in actuality, teaching “new Jewish learners” is much more complicated than teaching intermediate Jewish learners, because with the intermediate there is already an understanding. We have shared terminology, make more assumptions, and assume a certain level of “same page knowledge” with those who sit at the intermediate tables. With these beginners, before I could even get to the basics, we needed to talk technique—just as with my dance students.
I realized the first order of business was NOT starting with “In the beginning….” It was to explain that Jewish thought does not consider any one thing as “The” Truth; that is a far more Christian concept. We Jews are filled with questions, interpretations and thousands of years of written thoughts to ponder and learn, which are amazing.
Of course, we do thank God in our blessing after the reading of Torah reading for giving us a “Torah of Truth.” But as we learn to study Jewishly, we realize that this can mean a Torah full of truths, not one single Truth. We can also have a rich discussion of the beauty of the truths in the Torah, with an understanding of the difference between truth and fact, between Truth and truths, and so on.
I had imagined this adult beginner class would be “easy.” Instead, it is a daunting task—and also an awesome responsibility. I look forward to next week when I walk in much more prepared to listen first, and teach second instead of the other way around. We will focus on the technique as much as the steps, learning like dancers.
See there, I am already learning again… and that is the truth!