We are born without masks. As infants, we cry when we are hungry, dirty, or uncomfortable. As children, we have tantrums when we’re upset. Children do not conceal how they feel.
By the time we hit adulthood, however, we are all wearing masks. For our friends, family, colleagues, strangers on the street. For ourselves. We control our emotions. Suppress our instincts. How many times do you ask someone how they are, and really expect to get an answer? In order to remain sane and function on the most basic level, we put on a show to the outside world concealing our inner world — our truth, our pain, the depth of our emotions.
During the Purim fever in Israel, our children spend the month of Adar in search of the best “mask.” When my middle daughter was 4-years-old, she was obsessed with Spiderman. Her birthday cakes featured Spiderman, and given an opportunity to dress up (either at home, a friend’s house, or at a gymboree), she opted for the Spiderman/ superhero costume rather than more girlish choices.
I remember one rainy day here in Israel, Tzofia left the house excitedly, more because of the opportunity the rain afforded her to use her Spiderman umbrella. When we arrived at gan, a few girls standing by the door chanted (in Hebrew): “Spiderman is for boys!” I have to say that one of my proudest moments occurred right then, when Tzofia marched proudly past the girls, and hung up her umbrella next to her friends’. I prayed to myself that for the rest of her life she would be as confident in her individuality as she was right at that moment.
Tzofia asked us if Spiderman was only for boys. At some point our free-spirited and strong-willed 4-year-old became aware of her surroundings, and somehow internalized the message that Spiderman wasn’t every girl’s cup of tea. Our heavily weighed answer was: “Spiderman is for whoever likes him.” She ultimately decided to stay with the superhero.
Purim for children represents one day of the year when they can reinvent themselves before their family, their teachers, their friends; that Purim is not just about disguising themselves and putting masks on, but rather taking them off, giving those around them the ability to see them how they want to be seen. A vehicle for self-expression. On this day, when children can parade the streets in their mask, tutu, or superhero costume, they are subconsciously teaching themselves that they can be whoever they want to be. There are no limitations other than those they set for themselves.
As adults, the mitzvot surrounding Purim all encourage us to take off our masks and even on a subconscious level to reveal ourselves. As we dress up for Purim, we are expressing ourselves in ways that aren’t available to us all year-round. As we indulge in the mitzvah of drinking, we are taking off masks and revealing our inner truth.
On Purim, we get the opportunity to search for our own personal truth. May the power of this transformative day provide us with fuel to continue that quest all year long as we navigate our own complex world.