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
In this alliterative Mensch Madness match up, Mordechai and Moses are about to meet!
This match is tough, because both of these mighty M-heroes saved the Jews from oppression and certain doom. At this point in the year, many may think that Mordy has the slight advantage because of his strong performance a few weeks ago during the Holiday of Purim. However, in the coming weeks Moses will steal the spotlight, yet again, as we begin our Passover celebrations.
Reviewing the Megillah (hey, another M!), it was indeed Mordechai who devised a plan that landed his (secretly Jewish!) niece Esther in the palace as the new Queen. Then, while Mordechai was patrolling the palace, he overheard a plan to kill the king. Mordechai gave word to the king, thwarting the assassination attempt, and King Ahashuerus recorded Mordy’s deed in his royal diary. Mordechai’s next challenge was an evil man named Haman (BOO!), who had climbed his way up to become the king’s right-hand man – a Scottie Pippen/Michael Jordan type of relationship. One day Haman was walking though the city and ordered the civilians to bow, but Mordechai refused. Outraged, Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people. Mordechai communicated with his niece, Queen Esther, and devised a plan to save their people. The plan worked and Haman was defeated. Mordechai saved all of the Team Jewish players, and became King Ahashuerus’ new MVP.
Quick game recap for the other player today: Moses not only saved the lives of thousands of Israelite people, but also defeated the evil Pharaoh, led the Israelites out of Egypt, delivered God’s laws, and helped create a new civilization. What impresses this ref most about Moses is that he did all of this without growing up within the Jewish community: since all Jewish baby boys were supposed to be killed, Moses’ mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Sea of Reeds to save his life. After being discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was raised as an Egyptian Prince. Thus, after growing up as an iconic Egyptian royal figure, he dishonored what he thought was his heritage and took a chance that ultimately made him the greatest Jewish prophet in our tradition.positioned his niece Esther to become the queen of Persia. Then, while Mordechai was on patrol, guarding the Kings palace, he overheard a plan to kill the king, and thwarted that plot. King Ahasuerus recorded Mordechai’s deed in his royal diary. Mordy’s next challenge was an evil man named Haman. Haman had climbed his way up to become the king’s right-hand man – a Scottie Pippen/Michael Jordan kind of relationship, you might say. One day Haman was walking though the city and ordered the civilians to bow, but our man Mordy refused. Outraged, Haman plotted to kill all the Jewish people. Learning of his plot, Mordechai communicated with his niece, now Queen Esther, and devised a plan to save their people. The plan worked and Haman was ousted and hung. Mordechai became a well respected, high ranking man in the eyes of King Ahasuerus – the new all-star on the team.
As impressive as it was for Mordechai to save the lives of so many Jews in Persia, Moses, along with help of God, created the lasting Israelite nation. The Torah states, “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom Adonai singled out, face to face, for the various signs and portents that the Adonai sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 34:12).”
Looks like the Big Coach weighed in on this one – and so, Moses hits the shot at the buzzer and defeats Mordechai.
Who will go on to win Mensch Madness? Stay tuned, Southern & Jewish sports fans!
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!