I’m only a couple of months away from my 25th birthday and my quarter life crisis is in full effect.
For Jews, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah naturally lend themselves to self-reflection, but I find it more prudent to keep a running tally of the things upon which I’d like to improve. For me, Purim serves as the kick-off event for the nine-month period in which I remind myself that just a quarter of the way through the New Year, my resolutions have begun to fall through the cracks. Purim’s timing coincides with the beginning of spring, the renewal of spirit (and those resolutions), and most importantly, the start of baseball season. While Purim’s celebrations are lighthearted and joyful, to me, Purim’s story conveys some troubling themes that my mask cannot conceal.
Much like a 60 degree early March day, particularly here in Washington, (it’s snowing right now: Midnight, Monday March 17), the story of Purim is one of deception and false realities. The name Esther, Purim’s main heroine, literally means “hidden.” Esther hides her Judaism until she feels the time is right to divulge her true identity. She’s not alone. Mordechai also hides, never showing his identity. No one could tell he was a Jew; Haman had to be told. Haman hides his hatred through much of the story and plots in secret. At one point the text tells us that Haman’s face is covered when he is discovered with Queen Esther. King Ahasuerus’ good judgment (and sobriety) is shelved throughout much of Purim’s tale, and even God is nowhere to be found for much of the story.
While celebrating contemporarily, we wear masks to hide our own faces, and make loud noises to drown out the painful parts of Purim’s ‘reality.’
I believe Purim’s characters are archetypes of ourselves. I learned that we wear costumes on Purim to commemorate the dressing up of Mordechai in King Ahasuerus’ royal garments. Another explanation is that Jews at the time pretended to worship alternative gods and god pretended that he was going to destroy the Jewish nation. God didn’t. For whom were we fronting? Chabad.org says (am I a nerd?) that this is a reason we pretend to be someone else on Purim, since both the Jews’ and god’s actions on its face had other underlying intentions.
When so many people turn to scripture for peacefulness, clarity, and answers to stressful real life occurrences, what should we take from scripture that muddles the lines of what and who is real? Furthermore, why mask our convictions?
Fortunately, many of us no longer live in a world in which a mask is required to shield ourselves or provide a façade to others from our true selves or practices. That does not mean, however, that forces of intolerance and oppression are gone.
Just last weekend, nearly half a dozen anti-Semetic attacks were carried out across France. Every year, the Anti-Defamation League presents a ‘top ten list’ of pressing issues in the world of Jewry. This year’s: the rise of the far Right in several European countries as part of what the watchdog termed an increase in global anti-Semitism. “Jewish communities around the world, and particularly those in Eastern and Western Europe and South America, witnessed a rise in serious anti-Jewish assaults, vandalism and harassment,” the ADL stated.
This year, instead of drowning out the bad and unjust, perhaps we should listen more closely to those who practice intolerance and hate. Maybe this year, it’s time to confront negative forces in the world, and in our lives, face to face.
Masks can only shield so much. There’s still work to be done.
Brian Block is a Penn State graduate with a passion for Italian food and his hometown, Philadelphia, most specifically the Phillies. Following campaign stints in New York, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, he’s lived in DC for nearly two years working in government relations and financial services.