We’re nearing the end of Mensch Madness, sports fans!
There is a palpable sense of history here in our arena, as two underdogs – Devorah and Hannah – match up against one another for a place in the Mensch Madness championship. Since both come from the WIN Conference (Women in Nevi’im), they are quite familiar with one another. Over recent years, the instant-classics that Devorah and Hannah have participated in have created a strong rivalry, up there with the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Ohio State-Michigan, and Cain-Abel.
We’re spotting some basketball yarmulkes in the crowded stands. The intimidatingly-named “Hannah’s Horde,” the raucous fans that flock to all of Hannah’s basketball games, all seem as excited as ever – we even spotted one holding a sign reading “Hey Eli, who’s drunk now?” Eli made headlines earlier this season for accusing Hannah of drunkenness during the game. Hannah insisted that she was not drunk, just full of intensity for her mid-season run of success, and the Breathalyzer tests backed up her claim. Eli did not even make Mensch Madness this year, and to add insult to injury, he was embarrassingly eliminated from the first round of the Mensch Invitational Tournament by Balaam’s donkey.
Devorah’s supporters have fewer signs – but they seem to be a fairly musical bunch. Their mascot, a giant bumblebee, chosen because it is the meaning of Devorah’s name in Hebrew, is conducting the entire crowd in a unified rendition of Judges Chapter 5! “Uri, uri, D’vorah” (Awake, awake, O Deborah!) and “Uri, uri, dab’ri shir” (Awake, awake, strike up the chant!) echo through the arena in a deafening roar.
But alas, there is basketball to be played, and the game will be won on the court – not in the stands. The game tips off, and Devorah takes control. She instantly summons 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun to execute a full-court press, and Hannah is no match for them. By halftime, Devorah has notched a 37-21 lead, and Hannah is unsure what she can do to start a comeback.
In the locker room, Hannah consults with her assistant coaches – her husband Elkanah and son Samuel the prophet. They have some sound advice! Many years back, when Hannah was desperate for a son, she made a deal with God. She said that “If You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and remember me…and if You will grant Your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the Lord for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.” She was rewarded with her son Samuel.
So Elkanah and Samuel advised her to make a similar vow today. Hannah summoned her strength. She closed her eyes, moved her lips, and stated “Oh God, if you will look kindly upon me and weaken the strength of Devorah my opponent, I will dedicate this court to the Lord, and no mop or broom shall ever touch its floor.”
God hears Hannah’s cries. God listens to every word, and God……reaches out a mighty hand…and…AND…God shakes God’s mighty finger at Hannah.
“Many years ago, your desire was for good. You wanted a son so that he may serve Me and serve My people. Today, your desire is for yourself. You wish Me to bring harm to Devorah so that you will win…a BASKETBALL GAME?! This thing is not good. Also, to refrain from mopping or sweeping such a court as this is unsanitary and a desecration of My name. This thing is not good. And you shall not win. ”
Despite the vigorous apologies from Hannah, Elkanah, and Samuel, Hannah returns to the court for the second half with little hope – and sure enough, Devorah comes away with a 72-50 blowout victory.
Who will win the FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?! You’ll know when Monday, when Mensch Madness reaches its exciting finale!
 Judges 5. Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English Tanakh. Philadelphia, 1999 (527).
 Judges 4. Ibid 520.
 1 Samuel 1. Ibid 572.
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!