Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Essence of Purim
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Costume Or Disguise


Rabbi Berel Wein

One of the favorite customs of Purim is that people – otherwise apparently sane and normal – dress up in costumes and masks. For one day a year at least they are allowed to pretend to be what they are not. One can be a pirate or an Arab, a charedi or a sports hero, a kibbutznik or a police officer – just as long as the person realizes that it is only a costume that one wears and not the real thing. However many psychological studies have indicated that perhaps that costume that we wear on Purim is in actuality an expression of the real person. It illustrates the innermost desire to really be what the costume represents. As such this subliminal understanding transforms our everyday appearance into being a disguise, masking our true self and ambition. It is as though all year long we are masquerading as someone that we are not and only on Purim do we really reveal ourselves. This play acting is an integral part of life, especially in our current societal mode of behavior and appearance. We are to be judged by our appearance, by a kippah or lack of it, the length of our jacket and the tightness of our clothes. But who is the real person? Which is the costume and which is the disguise? As the great rebbe of Kotzk, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (Halperin) phrased it: "If I am I and you are you then I am I and you are you. But if I am you and you are me then I am not I and you are not you." As such Purim represents to us our almost eternal state of confusion about our real selves and our purpose in life. Purim challenges us to reveal who the real me really is.

The rabbis indicate that on Purim one should arrive at a state were one knows no longer the difference between blessing Mordecai and cursing Haman. Even more troubling is the fact that we find it difficult to identify who is the real Haman and who is the real Mordecai in our lives. Haman often dresses in the clothing of Mordecai and disguises himself ably. And Mordecai is often seen wearing kingly non-Jewish clothing that is but a costume and not his reality. In a world of disguises and costumes it certainly is difficult to identify heroes and villains, the good and the not so good. Is the professed love of Israel proclaimed by J Street and Peace Now a disguise that hides their true enmity to Israel’s current existence as a Jewish state? Or maybe they really love Israel and their harmful anti-Israel statements and policies are only a costume but not their real agenda and identity? How is one to know definitely? The European Union, the American State Department and the American President and administration all profess their loyalty to Israel’s rightful existence. Is that what they really think and believe? Can they ever be relied upon when moments of truth and hard decisions arrive? Are they cursed Haman or blessed Mordecai? And how are we to be able to discern this difference? Difficult Purim questions exist in our world.

At the end of all matters the Lord apparently decides on these matters. We can only do our best and act as reasonably and rationally as possible to protect our own self interest. Purim points out to us that all matters regarding the Jewish people and certainly the Jewish state are existential in their very nature. Wrong decisions and misreading the true face of events will always result in wrong policies, painful defeats and the spilling of Jewish blood. The last twenty years of Israeli diplomacy points out the truth of this statement. Rabin and Peres did not see Arafat as Haman. They were dead wrong. Netanyahu originally misjudged Abu Mazen. He was also wrong. The whole world mistook the Arab Spring as a positive thing and threw long time allies under the revolutionary Islamic bus. They are daily being proven wrong. And what would be our position today if Assad the father accepted Ehud Barak’s offer of almost all the Golan to be returned to Syria? Only the Lord has saved us from our mistakes and errors of wrong identification and poor judgment. And we all know that the hidden miracle of Purim is the Lord’s actions, so to speak, behind the scenes and through the actions and behavior of various human beings. So we are once again returned to Purim like circumstances in our own times and situations. Look carefully and see who is wearing the costume and who is wearing a disguise. Our future depends upon this.
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