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Disguising Ourselves on Purim

Why Do We Do It – And From Whom Are We Hiding?

By Rabbi Yoav Ende

The motif of masking identities is one of the main keys to understanding the Purim story. What is it all about, and from whom, exactly, are we hiding?

Wearing a mask is one kind of disguise, but the deeper meaning of disguise derives from a different Purim concept – Reversal of Fortune (ונהפוך הוא). Rather than drawing back a curtain in order to unmask the story, it involves a type of disguise that is out in the open, but which you cannot see or understand – you are part of the “game,” in the sense of “I will surely hide My face on that day…” (Deuteronomy 31:18).

In Megillat Esther, Haman devises many schemes. All of his schemes materialize, but with exactly the opposite of the intended result. Haman single-mindedly plots to ensure his ascendancy – but we all know that the result will be the reverse, with Mordechai and the Jews prevailing. “I will surely hide My face” – Haman’s plot will ultimately backfire on him.

Megillat Esther teaches us to mistrust our perceptions of reality. Perhaps Purim is telling us that our take on things is imprecise – and perhaps even a bit backwards? If we are despondent, perhaps we should reassess our situation? If we are convinced that our path is just, perhaps we need to take a closer look at ourselves? Purim’s message to us is: “Don’t be so sure of yourselves.”

Let’s take another look at our story. Esther has an important mission, and that is to convince Ahashverosh that his take on reality is incorrect – a difficult task, indeed. But since the Megilla was not intended for the world, at large, but rather for the Jewish People, let us consider the more difficult challenge – how to unite the people.

If we examine the plain meaning of the Megilla, we could say that it contains a warning that is already known to us: the Jewish people only knows how to unite in the face of an existential threat – and that is nothing to be particularly proud of, or to depend upon.

On Purim, we do not sanctify lots (Purim), the luck of the draw over which we have no control. Nor do we self-indulgently despair over the possibility of deflecting our dire fate. On the contrary, we defy fate and reject inaction and despair.

On Purim, we famously allow ourselves to indulge in drink “until we cannot tell the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai.” For one day, we are commanded to confront the limits of our understanding, to acknowledge that everything derives from God and that we have only limited control over our lives. But then…what happens tomorrow? We revert to our previous reality – and hope that we haven’t made fools of ourselves in the interim.

But wait – aren’t we missing something important here? Something is supposed to happen on Purim, something that will make tomorrow different and change the way we look at the world.

  • Could it be possible that we do not comprehend our current predicament?
  • Might we be blindly following a path to an undesirable destination?
  • Shouldn’t we, at the very least, marshal some introspection and reassess our current path?
  • Perhaps it is time to learn from someone who thinks differently than I do?
  • And maybe, just maybe, Purim really is meant to transform us?

Purim is both an individual and collective invitation to open our eyes and take a fresh look at reality, so that we can take the next step – towards Yetsi’at Mitsrayim, the Exodus from Egypt.

The essence of Purim is breaking down barriers, via love and happiness, since the Divine Presence rests upon us only in the presence of joy.

Happy Purim – חג פורים שמח

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