THE MASKED YOU
Everybody knows there is a minhag (custom) to dress in costumes on Purim. This minhag is not just a playful, childish activity : there is deep significance behind the masks and costumes we wear on Purim.
A mask or costume hides one’s identity. This theme of hiding one’s identity is one we find often in Megillat Esther. The most obvious example of this is Queen Esther herself, who hid her identity in thepalaceofKing Achashverosh. Another example is Harvona, whom we remember for good (“zachur latov”) due to his suggestion to King Achashverosh to hang Haman on the very same tree he had designed for Mordechai. Our Rabbis tell us that this was actually Eliyahu Hanavi, who had come disguised as Harvona, a close friend and adviser of Haman, and made the suggestion to the king.
We find in the Purim story that while Haman was leading Mordechai on the King’s horse, Haman’s own daughter mistook her father for Mordechai, and publicly humiliated Haman. According to one explanation, the reason she made this mistake was because Haman had asked Mordechai for permission to don his sackcloth while he led the horse, in order to disguise himself and avoid embarrassment.
There is yet another who hid His identity throughout the Megilla – Hashem himself! Hashem’s name is never actually mentioned in the Megillah. However, the Vilna Gaon explained that every time the Megillah says the word “HaMelech” (the King), even though it seems to be referring to King Achashverosh, it is a veiled reference to the “King of kings”, who orchestrated all the events of the Megillah, while hiding Himself behind the scenes. It is for this reason the Talmud says that when the Torah says “And I will hide my face on that day”– ( Devarim, 31:17), it is referring to Purim.
The Jewish people also donned a “mask” throughout the Purim story. The Talmud explains that Haman was given the power to destroy the Jewish people as a punishment for the Jews’ attendance at Achashverosh’s feast. Even though, according to many opinions, the food at the feast was 100% kosher and no halachot were transgressed, the Jews were guilty of trying to hide their Jewish identity and blend in with the gentiles. In order to repent, Esther asked them to fast for three days in order to “remove the food of Achashverosh’s party” from themselves and stop hiding their true identity.
The rabbis instruct us that on Purim, “כל הפושט יד נותנים לו – anyone who outstretches his hand, we give to him”. Simply speaking, this refers to giving charity on this day, but these words have a secondary message as well – anyone who asks from Heaven on Purim will be answered. The word כל (“everyone”) –includes even someone who appears before us whose status as a poor man may be questionable. Similarly, even if our outer self might sometimes contradict our inner self, G-d still accepts us and will answer our prayers even more on Purim than He usually does.
The Arizal teaches that one reason the Torah calls Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, “Yom HaKippurim,” is because Yom Kippur is “K’Purim” (like Purim). By calling Yom Kippur “like Purim,” the Torah implies that even the great holiness of Yom Kippur doesn’t reach the holiness of Purim. How can Purim – with its costumes, feasting and drinking – possibly be holier than Yom Kippur?
Purim is a time where we are given the opportunity to remove our “personal masks” and reveal who we really are. On this holy day, one can connect to his deepest, purest intentions for repentance in a more elevated way than he can on Yom Kippur itself. It is for this reason that we have the custom to get drunk on Purim; when a person drinks, he lets go of all of his inhibitions and reveals his true self. The Talmud teaches – wine enters and the secrets come out.
The Hebrew word for costume is תחפושת tachposet, the root of which is the word חיפוש chipus – “search”. Throughout the year, we all behave in many ways which do not reflect who we really are. The word פנים panim, face, literally means “aspects” – because there are many aspects to the “face” we put forward, and many aspects to who we really are. On Purim, we must “search” beneath the costume in which we hide our true selves and see through the masks behind which G-d and our fellow Jew hide. We must search for the “understanding of G-d”, Who is currently hiding behind the mask of galut (exile), and, simultaneously, search for our “true selves” – who we really are and who we really want to be, rather than just accepting things as they are and carrying on in the way we normally behave. We must also reveal the essence of other people, working to accept others by finding the good and positive in them. Let us learn from the masks of Purim that, in reality, it is on this day that we truly reveal ourselves – we were masked all year round!
Purim and the Ancient Happiness Theory
As Purim approaches, many of us are filled with a feeling of anticipation and excitement, looking forward to the simcha (happiness) this special day can bring. However, after Purim, many often experience disappointment, feeling that simcha somehow passed them by. There is tremendous potential in Purim day, and if utilized correctly, Purim can be a source of happiness that lasts all year long. As the Yiddish song goes, “A gans yohr freilich” – “joyous, all year round!!” We need to understand, then – how do I get the most out of Purim this year?
If we study the four mitzvoth of Purim we may be able to tap into the Ancient Happiness Theory: our happiness is determined by our relationships. Nothing brings a person more happiness than having healthy, thriving relationships. On the other hand, a person who is suffering from failing relationships feels miserable, making happiness an unattainable dream. There are three types of relationships: with oneself, with others, and with G-d. Our Rabbis gave us the four mitzvoth of Purim to tap into and enhance these relationships: reading Megillat Esther, making a seuda, sending mishloach manot and giving matanot l’evyonim. Through the Megillah, we are able to rediscover our personal relationship with G-d; mishloach manot and matanot l’evyonim allow us to build our relationships with others; finally, the seudah provides an opportunity for us to reconnect with ourselves. The more one works on improving each of these three relationships all year long, and on Purim in particular, the higher the happiness meter rises. The potential is infinite – the sky’s the limit!
Let us first explore our relationship with G-d from the Megilla’s point of view. Megillat Esther is actually the story of our relationship with G-d, then as much as now. The word megillah comes from the Hebrew verb לגלות – to reveal. Esther means “hidden.” Megillat Esther is the revelation of G-d’s hiddenness. G-d stands behind the scenes, and at any given moment may bring about the most ironic and unexpected scenario. Just as G-d was right behind the curtain, caring and loving every one of us during the entire story of Megillat Esther, He is always here. He never leaves our side, even during the bleakest of hours.
Did you ever stop to wonder why we whisper our prayers? Perhaps, the reason teaches a profound lesson, which we impress upon ourselves day in and day out. The world is filled with clatter, loud noises and confusion. There are so many people with so many needs. If you have ever been shopping in Shuk Machane Yehuda, you’ll understand what I mean. If you want to be heard, if you want to be served there (and in this world), you’ve gotta scream. Otherwise, you won’t be noticed, and you’ll return home empty handed. Not so when we turn to G-d: He is right by my side. He is right by your side. He hears my whispers, and He hears yours, too. Amidst all the clatter and confusion, He’s right there!
Many people have a misconception that G-d “plays favorites.” When things don’t go as they expected or hoped they would, they feel forgotten and forsaken. “If G-d exists, why did He turn His back on me?” they ask. Life can be so bleak from this perspective. When a person has such a worldview, even the light at the end of the tunnel seems to him to be a train coming to run him over! If a person feels that G-d is “out to get him,” he may experience grief and hopelessness. More precisely, unnecessary grief and hopelessness.
This year, instead of just listening to and learning the Megillah – live it! Feel G-d “producing your life movie.” Our relationship with G-d can be improved by applying the Megillah’s concept – changing our perspective and realizing that G-d is always with us, even when we don’t see His love and concern. Just internalizing the fact that G-d cares for us brings tremendous happiness. Imagine the happiness of someone who feels G-d holding his hand throughout his whole life. The mitzvah of reading Megillat Esther is to internalize this Truth and develop a closeness to G-d that lasts all year.
Let us focus now on Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’evyonim and explore how they may enhance our interpersonal relationships. There are two types of interpersonal relationships: there are relationships in which both people give to and receive from one another, and there are relationships in which one is the giver, and the other, the taker. Relationships in which each person gives and receives are usually the ones that last. If we look around at most relationships around us we will notice that the long lasting relationships are those where there is a give and take. Subconsciously, people would rather be in relationships where there is both giving and taking.
With the mitzvot of mishloach manot, our Rabbis gave us an opportunity to both give and take. Even a poor man is required to give. Even a rich man is expected to receive. This leaves everyone feeling they’ve had the opportunity to show their appreciation to others, at the same time, not feeling they’ve been taken advantage of.
The mitzvah of Matanot Laevyonim is where unconditional giving takes place. People who give of what they have are usually happy people. Rabbi Noach Weinberg would say that when a person becomes a giver, he is acting like a happy person; and when one acts like a happy person, he becomes a happy person.
Another reason it feels so good to give is because there is nothing more “G-d-like” than giving. Being G-d-like brings eternal happiness, since a person who emulates the actions of his Creator knows he is fulfilling the purpose for which he was created. The giving and unconditional love shown on Purim puts people in a very positive, loving mindset, enabling them to rebuild and strengthen relationships. Try to find those interpersonal relationships which need strengthening. There is no better time than Purim to rebuild them.
Let us now take a look at the relationship one has with himself and how the time of the Purim Seudah is so apropos for this. I have a confession to make – I don’t like getting intoxicated. It gives me a headache. However, on Purim, I take the opportunity to learn about myself. After a few drinks, all I want to do is dance, make my family happy and share ideas about the Megillah to whoever is willing to listen (even if it is only the mop!). Getting drunk is getting down to your true self. It is a whole year’s work to make sure that who I really am deep down is not someone that I am ashamed of!
The seudah is a time for enjoying a good meal, giving our bodies pleasure. Rav Moshe Aaron Stern, the former Mashgiach of Kaminetz Yeshiva, once suggested that when a woman wants to have a calm conversation with her husband, she should first set the table. A meal somehow makes people relaxed. Probably, the idea is that when the body is satiated with good food and there are no distractions from bodily emotions and wants, the stage (as the table!) is set for a calm and pleasant talk.
Another idea of the seudah is a point Rashi makes in Megillat Esther (9:28). The megillah tells us that Purim is to be celebrated every year by “mishpacha u’mishpacha” – each and every family. Rashi explains that this refers to families gathering together to eat and drink at the Purim seudah. It is important to celebrate the most joyous seudah of the year with siblings and in-laws, with uncles and aunts, with parents and grandchildren. Even if one doesn’t get along with his various relatives and would rather be with friends partying, and even if one enjoys peace and quiet and would prefer not to have any company at all, Rashi tells that one must look past the difficulties of these feelings and be ‘heimish’ (the “at home” feeling) with his own family. If G-d makes them your family, try to make the best of it! G-d wants us to refine ourselves through the difficult relationships that we encounter!
When I was a child and my brother and I would have an argument, I would put a cereal box between us at the breakfast table, so I wouldn’t have to see him. Unfortunately, this does not really work for adults. One’s family is a big part of how one feels about his relationship with himself. Until someone is able to get along with his family, many times he won’t be able to feel comfortable with himself. The Seudah is supposed to be together with family for all these reasons:- to provide us with an opportunity to improve our relationship with ourselves.
If one can work on all three types of relationship – between himself and G-d, between himself and others, and his relationship with himself – he will feel tremendous happiness.
Shabbat Shalom, Yosef Farhi
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