As Mensch Madness continues, our next match-up is between the one… the only… the Father of Monotheism… Abraham! And his opponent? The ever patient… ever kind… ever knowledgeable-sage… Hillel the Elder. Who will win?!
BZZZZ! With a bit of divine intervention, Abraham gets the jump ball. He heads down the court, dribbling the shining ball of monotheism. Watch out, everyone – this guy is on a divine mission! He almost sacrificed his only son, for heaven’s sake! He’s so divinely inspired he might sacrifice literally anything to get that ball in the basket.
But wait, here comes wise Hillel the Elder, and he’s ready to play, too. Whoa! He just pulled out the Golden Rule, and blocked Abraham’s shot like he would have someone else block his own – to him that’s all of basketball, everything else is simply commentary! 
Hillel’s got the ball now, getting into position for a three point jumper, but wait! What’s this?! He just gave the ball to Abraham! I guess that’s just part of his game-play – he’s so humble that he gives his opponents a chance to shoot first even before his own shot, just like how Beit Hillel would recite the halachic opinions of Shammai before they would recite their own. What a mensch!
After a little bit of arguing with G-d, just like he argued with G-d over Sodom and Gemorrah, Abraham makes a seemingly impossible shot. It appears he won the argument this time, as a heavenly hand just came down and dropped the ball into the basket! This guy has got friends in high places! (Please ignore the brawl that just happened between some of those rowdy Esau fans and Isaac fans. They both support Abraham… just in different ways).
Hillel’s got the ball now, and he’s rolling. He goes in for an individual slam-dunk, because of course he’s all about the idea, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But he then kindly hands the ball to Abraham, because Hillel is also into the idea of “If I am only for myself, what am I?” But old Abraham takes a bit too long getting down the court, because Hillel steals it and goes in for the lay-up, shouting “If not now, WHEN??!!!”
The crowd is going wild. Abraham’s side is quite empty, as some have been hesitant to support the team out of fear of a certain Jewish ritual he started for 8-day old boys. But, there are some divine angels there that Abraham welcomed into his tent a while back. The desert just isn’t the best place to establish a huge fan base.
Hillel’s fans, meanwhile are bursting with energy, because Hillel is all about welcoming everyone into Judaism, even the most difficult folks. Even in difficult games, he’s very concerned for what game plan is best for the individual fans.
Winner: Hillel the Elder! With a combination of kindness, patience, and a love of peace, Hillel the Elder manages a wild three-point shot at the buzzer, for the win, all while standing on one foot! Despite Abraham’s direct connection to the Almighty, and his many, many descendants, and his being the first monotheist, he’s no match for Hillel. Hillel triumphs with the modern touch of kindness and compassion in Jewish life which we always need, especially in our world today.
What a game! See you as we head toward the SEMI-FINALS!
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Eruvin 13b
 Pirkei Avot 1:14
It’s a big sports week in the Jewish South! First, there’s a new Jewish college basketball coach at a big school down here, which folks are clearly pretty excited about. And second…
It’s time for Mensch Madness, Game Two!
We have a very close game today. Our number two seed, Miriam is up against our number three seed, Devorah.
This is going to be a tough match-up. Both of these powerhouses had a big impact, and both had songs written about them by Debbie Friedman, which elevates both in my eyes…
Let’s start with Miriam: She is very well known, seeing as she is an important character in the story of Passover (coming up soon!) and the Exodus. As Moses’ sister, Miriam was the one responsible for putting baby Moses in a basket and down the river, where the Pharaoh’s daughter found him. Already brave, Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter and told her that she knew a woman who could nurse the baby (hint: it’s their mother, Yocheved).
Once the Jews were finally across the Red Sea, Miriam led everyone in song, dancing with her timbrel. During the Jews’ time in the desert, a well of water followed Miriam because of her merit and righteousness. HOWEVER, we must not forget that Miriam suffers from the affliction of leprosy after she and her brother Aaron speak ill of Moses’ wife, a Cushite woman. Lashon hara, gossip, is certainly not an admirable characteristic, but it shouldn’t over shadow her positive attributes.
And then there’s Devorah: She is not as public a figure as her competitor, but she was a great leader for the Jewish people after Moses, Miriam, and Aaron died. Devorah was a judge in Israel; she was a strong woman, without whom Barak (a general) would not enter battle: “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, I will not go.” Devorah is happy to join in the journey, but in being realistic about gender roles of the time reminds Barak that he will not receive any glory because a woman is accompanying him as an advisor in battle.
But Devorah does not flee from leadership, even despite the gender norms of the day. Devorah is therefore seen as a mother in Israel, during a time when leadership was much needed. Israel was finally at peace, with Devorah at the helm.
Miriam and Devorah were both amazing women, who are great role models among women from the Tanakh. In this very close game, every move counts… and Miriam fouled with her negative attitude towards Moses’ wife, while Devorah accepted her leadership position and held court with poise. Her bravery and strength are ever-present, despite the male-dominated community.
As the only female judge of the time, I consider her a trailblazer, a pioneer, a winner in this round of Mensch Madness! See y’all at the next game!
In the South, we love our sports. March Madness is on the horizon and our minds are on the game! Of course, Southern-and-Jewish sporting (especially if you’re an Education Fellow) can look a little different.
In this afternoon’s game we have the number one seeded Queen Esther up against the number four seed, Hannah.
Esther’s story is probably fresh in your minds as we’ve just celebrated her holiday of Purim. As Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, tells us, the beautiful young Esther won a beauty contest to become Queen of Persia after Ahashveros kicked his first queen out of the palace. Esther then went on to save the Jews from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. Esther was brave enough to enter the court of the king even when faced with the possibility of death for speaking to the king without being summoned. She was then clever enough to invite him to a feast and flatter him before asking the difficult question she truly wanted.
She has a lot going for her, this Esther. She has a whole book named after her, a holiday to celebrate her bravery, and we all know who every little girl wants to dress as on Purim.
The one area in which Hannah might outplay Esther is prayer – and a strong prayer player is a good skill! Esther’s account of the Purim story does not mention God at all, not even once! She appeared to be pretty pious when she fasted and prayed before going to see the king, but even then we did not have any idea of what she said or if she was really praying to God. Hannah, on the other hand, has this prayer thing down. She is acknowledged as the first Jew to employ personal prayer. Devastated by her inability to conceive, Hannah went to pray at the Temple in Jerusalem. She prayed so fervently, moving her lips but not making a sound, that Eli the High Priest thought she was drunk. Being the strong woman that she was, Hannah stood up for herself and told Eli no, she was not drunk, she was praying to God from her heart.
We see that God obviously approved of Hannah’s actions because he granted her wish and she became the mother of Samuel, the famous prophet. We never saw that kind of Godly approval for Esther. And don’t think that Hannah is left out of the important scripture. She may not have a book of Tanakh named after her, but the haftarah portion narrating her story is read on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah. We wouldn’t read the story of just anyone on this holy day!
Folks, it looks like Hannah may come from behind to win this one, after all. Sure, Esther has that fame thing going for her, but Hannah is responsible for Judaism’s acknowledgement of personal prayer. What an incredible game this has been! Prayer, subterfuge, and all at the hands of two brave and intelligent leading ladies.
Hannah, The PRAYER PLAYER, will go on to face whoever wins the showdown between Miriam and Devorah… keep tuning in, sports fans!