Dressing up on Purim
In the opening for Rabbi Haim Sabato’s book “From the Four Winds”, he tells a story about himself during Purim in the year 5719, in the immigrant neighborhood of Beit Mazmil (Kiryat HaYovel today) in Jerusalem. He was in the second grade, a new immigrant from Egypt, who dreamed of dressing up as a cowboy, just many other children. His father, who left early for work each day and returned home late at night, promised he would buy Haim a cowboy costume. The author writes: “I was going to be a cowboy. My imagination took over and I saw myself wearing the same black hat with the wide brim, the leather trousers with colored fringed stripes, and, of course, a belt with a pistol”. The days passed and his expectations grew until the day his father took him to the store and bought him a cowboy hat.
Sabato wrote: “I was so happy myself that I didn’t notice that I had no stripes on my shoulders, decorative bands on my trousers, or a pistol. It didn’t matter to me at all. I was in costume. In the costume of a cowboy. Who could compare to me? I stood at the bus stop, this time actually happy that the bus was late, staring at all of the other costumes filling up the street and hoping that others could see me. A young cowboy.”
Then it started to rain, and by the time he arrived at school, and the hat on the head, of Haim Sabato the child was nothing more than a piece of paper. He got to class and it was his turn to stand in front of everyone and show off his costume. “My turn came. I exited and came back with the soggy paper hat on my head. Rav Leuchter stared at me, making a great effort to identify me, and then he said, “Who is that? I can’t possibly identify who it is.” “Who are you?” He turned to me without asking the other children. I was filled with pride and joy. “I am Haim,” I said, “But today I am a cowboy.” “Oh!” Rav Leuchter answered with excitement, “A cowboy. What a beautiful costume, I couldn’t recognize you! I went back to my seat and sat down happy”.
When our children dress up, they are so proud and happy with themselves, to the point that they feel that they are actually that character. They can fly like superman, they are as strong as the Incredibles, as beautiful as a queen or fairy, as amazing as a magician or a witch. And on and on. And still, they are thrilled when we can identify who they are under the disguise, that we can still see them and be amazed by them.
It is so little, and yet so much.
And when we adults dress up? What is it that we want? Our only wish is that others do not see us, that we are disguised, that we are concealed and that we feel comfortable being who we are – as long as we are not discovered…
The hidden and the revealed on Purim – what does this holiday want from us? To be ourselves, happy and proud? Or, just for a moment, to forget ourselves “until we do not know” and to hide ourselves from the world?
The Book of Esther, megillat Esther, which we read on Purim, could also be called The Hidden Book, megillat Hester . There is one level of the book that is revealed and known, and another level that is hidden from us. On the one hand, God is not to be found in the megillah, but on the other hand, God’s presence is everywhere in the megillah, in every word and in every action. And this is the very challenge for a person who believes and who is searching. The tension between God “who fills the whole world with His glory” and is everywhere, and a God for whom we have to ask “where is His place of glory”. Where do we find God, why can we not see him?
There is the actual holiday meal (and drinking during the meal) which is one of the mitzvoth or commandments of Purim – to be happy, to be happy that our fate was “turned upside down”, that a tragedy became a celebration. And then there is the hidden meaning of drinking on Purim – “until you don’t know. What is the point of drinking? Until one does not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”? Until I forget who I am? I think that this is not the real meaning of the commandment. So how indeed can we understand this idea of forgetting? I believe, that for one moment we are asked to forget that there is evil in the world.
Evil exists, and it seems that it will always exist until this world becomes the next world, olam haba. But we need to forget, just for a moment, that people are not completely perfect and instead work towards a better world. We need to forget that people are not completely moral and instead work towards a more just world. We need to forget that not all people want peace and mercy and instead, work towards a world filled with compassion and a society based in peace. Purim teaches us how to strengthen our faith in what is good and hope towards a future that is all good.
So that we do not become too cynical, so that we can offer a kind word, and protect and nurture our children and ourselves, so that we remember that reality exceeds imagination, not just negatively but positively as well. So that we can believe in our own abilities to be a part of something, to lead and to repair the world, until what appears to be “lost” turns into success, joy and salvation.
So that we can celebrate with great joy that does not make us forget ourselves, but rather, helps us remember who we really want to be and who we are truly capable of becoming.