Get ready, sports fans! It’s time for Mensch Madness, Round 2, and the Men’s Semi-Finals with Moses (1) taking on Hillel (3)!
We’ve got a sold out crowd here in the arena today, as our number one seed takes on an underdog winner! Seemingly everyone is on Hillel’s bandwagon, with a large contingent of college students filing their way into the stands. Moses, however, seems to have the celebrity backing, as everyone from Maimonides to Mendelssohn has been spotted sporting light-up promotional toy “staffs.”
Let’s check out some quick background on our teams. Michael Shapiro’s preseason rankings had Moses listed as the #1 most influential Jew of all time, whereas Hillel the elder just barely cracked the top twenty-five.[i] Don’t be fooled by his nickname “The Elder” – Hillel is actually significantly younger than Moses. Some people have some concerns about Moses’ knees and how they’ll hold up over the length of the entire post-season, especially considering his most recent ACL surgery.
Our guest referee for this game is Dwayne Johnson, and he wastes no time in tossing the ball up to start the game. Immediately, Moses jumps out to a huge lead. When he raises the ball in his arms, he has a clear avenue to the basket since, for some reason, Team Hillel stands in two rows and just watches Moses blast by. In a surprising move, Moses has elected to play barefoot. We got reports that say he took off his shoes after a local fan said something like: “You’re playing in the Garden! For Bostonians, you’re standing on holy ground!” This situation has not slowed his pace at all, as Moses continues his blistering barrage.
But, what’s this? As we near the half, Moses has charged off into the stands. Hillel begins to score at will! Where did Moses go?! We’ve just got word, our sideline reporter informs us that Moses saw an underage sheep wander off toward the beer concessions and is now carrying the animal back to the proper seat on his shoulders.[ii]
That’s the halftime buzzer. In a shocking surprise, Team Hillel is up, 34-40.
Our teams have returned from the locker and Moses looks angrier than when the taskmaster whipped that slave. We’ve gotten word he got quite the halftime pump-up, since the “Chairman of the Board,” Big Mo stormed into the locker room to give an inspirational speech. We’ll see if he bestowed any “championship knowledge” onto his namesake. Hillel starts out with the ball and is moving in a sluggish manner. I think this team may have scarfed too many matzah sandwiches in the locker room. Moreover, Moses’ face is shining so bright for some reason! Team Hillel seems to now be employing the “hack-a-shaw” method, swinging blindly nowhere near the ball… hitting Moses’ arms. I’m almost sure those are fouls, but for some reason still no whistles. Tired of not getting any calls, Moses has gone over to confront our referee. Holy Smoke! Moses has hit The Rock! That’s a technical foul, you cannot put your hands on a referee. That will give Team Hillel an opportunity to hit some free throws and have one last chance at a miracle upset. He hits both of them!
Here we go folks, we’re about to find out if, down by one, Hillel can overcome his renown calm demeanor and upset Team Moses! They inbound the ball to Hillel and, wait, a court side fan has asked him to explain the entire Torah on one foot. He’s completed that with barely two seconds left on the clock! He begins to move the ball down the floor…
TWEEEEEEET! Referee Johnson has blown the whistle. We have a call! Yes, that’s a double dribble! Moses’ Ball! Moses’ Ball! The game will end on a technicality! This is the worst playoff blunder since Chris Webber, folks.
That’s all from us here at WJEW Sports Radio. Our headline of the night:
MOSES MARCHES CLOSER TO THE PROMISED LAND. WILL PLAY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP!
[i] Michael Shapiro. The Jewish 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Jews of All Time. (New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1995)
[ii] Exodus Rabbah 2:2
The story of Passover, and the Exodus from Egypt, involves the oppressor (Pharaoh and the Egyptians) and the oppressed and enslaved (the Jews). At seders around the world, Pharaoh is the symbol from figures ranging from literal modern day slave-owners and dictators to metaphorical oppressors, such as depression and cancer. The common thread: they are destructive, and all too prevalent.
However, when people ask me what I am doing for Passover, I answer with a one-liner that only serves to stun the person I’m talking with (and always makes me feel like I just said that flowers are hideous or something): To me, Passover is the day when I celebrate the freedom I have to not observe Passover.
As someone who was raised ultra-orthodox, it is not a freedom I take for granted.
However, it leads me to wonder why I have a hard time celebrating freedom from tyranny, slavery and other similar forces. This year, I realized what is missing for me. It is an understanding that we are in a world where my freedom may be linked to another’s oppression—particularly when it comes to the freedoms associated with Jewish life.
Passover epitomizes this for me. We hear about the experiences of Jews who had to overcome adversity in order to celebrate Passover. The idea that Jews around the world can observe Passover freely is a story of triumph and a cause for celebration. But, what is missing for me is an exploration of how the freedom to celebrate Passover can be oppressive to others. It can be oppressive because it is not a choice and is, in fact, a sort of “Egypt” for some who are seeking to survive or escape their ultra-orthodox communities of origin.
I have similar feelings about other Jewish practices like the mikvah (ritual bath). There is a growing trend of Jewish communities building beautiful spa-like mikvahs for women who want to partake in the set of laws that are known as Taharas Hamishpacha (family purity). The experience of going to a mikvah changed the status of a woman who had her period from being impure to pure. I’m glad women today have found a way to create a magical experience of going to the mikvah. Mikvah goers oftentimes enjoy the experience of being pampered, relaxing and tuning into their bodies. (I, too, enjoy going to a spa.) But, it troubles me when I see a disconnect between that beautiful experience and the experience of my high school peers, some of whom dreaded the experience of going to the mikvah, but didn’t have the freedom to skip a month, or opt-out altogether.
Freedom does not just mean the freedom to do things; it means the freedom to not do them, or to do them in our own way.
My hope this Passover is that we recognize that freedom is precious and worthy of celebration and safe-guarding. We must be sure that our freedom does not enable the freedom of others to be trampled. May we all appreciate the freedoms that we do have, and continue advocating for others’ freedom as well.
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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