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.
This year’s Mensch Madness Baaaaaa-sketball Tournament opens with a play-in game between the #8 seed, One Little Goat from the famous Passover song Chad Gadya, and the #9 seed, the Ram from the Akeidah.
Which of these two feisty beasts will make it to the next round?
Hardcore fans will recall the Ram from the story of the Binding of Isaac, back in Genesis 22. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then an Angel swooped in to stop the slaughter at the last moment. As Abraham looked up in gratitude, his eyes “fell upon the Ram caught in the thicket.” Now this Ram is almost a sure winner. After all, when they were walking up Mount Moriah Abraham said to Isaac, “God will see to the sheep for the offering.” We never doubted this Ram would come through, and we think he will perform similarly today!
On the other team we see the underdog, the main character from the Passover song, the One Little Goat that My Father Bought for Two Zuzim, also known as Chad Gadya. This is one small goat, folks. He got beaten up by a cat – A CAT, Y’ALL – and his size is still a big concern today!
We now go live to the game:
The Ram won the jump ball and has taken off down the court. Unfortunately, this is one clumsy Ram. Remember how he got his horns tangled up in that thicket? That’s how Abraham spotted him in the first place. Well, now the Ram is tripping all over himself again and the Chad Gadya quickly moved in to take the ball away.
Now here comes that One Little Goat down the court, and oh no! The stick appears out of nowhere to beat the dog who bit the cat who ate the goat my father bought for two zuzim. Sheesh, Little Goat can’t catch a break!
And that’s the halftime buzzer. One thing you really have to appreciate about both these players is their symbolic value. Abraham offered this Ram as a sign of his gratitude when God spared his son, Isaac. God’s acceptance of this offering really put an end to child sacrifice. The Goat from Chad Gadya also carries deep meaning; he represents the paschal offering, the reminder of how God freed our ancestors from Egypt. Both these beasts carry weighty symbolic burdens.
And we’re back! Now as the Ram takes the ball down the court. The aforementioned Angel of God appears to set a pick, and the Ram shoots from the 3-point line and scores. What a play! Chad Gadya has divine beings on his team, too, and as he takes the ball the Angel of Death who killed the butcher who slaughtered the ox who drank the water that put out the fire that burned the stick that hit the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat that my father bought for two zuzim has appeared on the court to come to the Goat’s assistance.
Angel of God! Angel of Death! Holy… basketball!
This has been a tough game, but when the final shofar blows, it’s the Ram from the Akeidah walks away with the victory. You just can’t escape the fact that this Ram has divine sanction on his side. Abraham saw this Ram caught in a thicket, and made him the symbol of God’s mercy. As Yehuda Amichai wrote, “The real hero of the Isaac story was the Ram,” and it’s tough to beat that.
In the next round, the Ram will face off against the Golden Calf! See you there, sports fans.
 Yehuda Amichai, “The Real Hero.” Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Translation by Chana Bloch & Stephen Mitchel. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).