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!
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!