Purim seems like it’s not so very important.
Many of us associate it with children — carnivals, costumes, lots of sugared food, lots of running around and squealing. Some of us associate it with more adult pastimes — specifically, with drinking. In fact, the mandate to drink until we cannot tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman — between good and bad, that is, between white and black, day and night — can lead to disastrous results.
(This is not my main point here, but this cannot be said too often — do not drink to excess. Do not drink and drive. Do not encourage people with drinking problems to drink. Do not make yourself sick. That is not at all the point of Purim.)
Many of us think of Purim as a profoundly unserious holiday. It’s frivolous. It’s meant to be fun. We are told to make noise. We are encouraged to laugh. And we know that God’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the story. It’s about a historical incident and we all know that it ended just fine. (Or just fine for us Jews. When you read the second part of Megillat Esther, you realize that you are rejoicing at the deaths of many people. Many Jews, including many of us here, have trouble with that one.)
But Purim has far a far deeper meaning than carnivals or drunkenness, although both of those things are entry points to that meaning.
It is about masks. It is about hiding and revealing, being in and being out.
We are taught that Purim, as seemingly trivial as it is, will be the only holiday that will remain in the World to Come.
There is a clue in Purim’s name. The word megillah is about revealing, and Esther is about hiding. To reveal or to hide? To mask or unmask?
So when are we really masked? During the year, or on Purim? Which face is real, the one we grow into or the one we chose to put on? What are we revealing by the way we chose to hide?
The presidential campaign now being waged (an appropriate verb to use in this context, because it usually applies to war) on some level is about masks. Candidates have tried on masks and been attacked for their lack of authenticity. The rubber and paint and strings have been too evident. Perhaps because of social media and cellphone cameras they’ve been seen far too close up. The fakeness shows.
Other candidates have campaigned on their authenticity, claiming that they do not need masks. On the left there is Bernie Sanders, with his Brooklyn accent and his grumpy grandpa affect and his socialist politics. On the right there is Donald Trump, about whom nothing else need be said.
And then there is us, the electorate. Many of us have dropped our masks and show ferocious faces, snarling with hate and envy and fear.
Maybe, once Purim is over, it will be a good idea to put our masks back on. Maybe we should cover our baser nature with a veneer of civility. Maybe “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” should replace “Get ‘em outta here.” Maybe if we act out our better selves often enough, even if at first we don’t mean it, eventually we will.
It’s worth a try.