Purim is a Jewish festival filled with colorful costumes, parties for all ages and (very often) more alcohol than needed. But, it’s also a holiday with some serious thought-provoking stories and ideas — as relevant today as they were centuries ago.
In his 1977 award winning album “The Stranger,” Billy Joel presents us with one of the classic Chasidic teachings about Purim.
Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on
Well we all fall in love
But we disregard the danger
Though we share so many secrets
There are some we never tell
Why were you so surprised
That you never saw the stranger
Did you ever let your lover see
The stranger in yourself?
In the first two verses of The Stranger, the Jewish born rock star reminds all of us that there are some aspects of our personality “we hide away forever,” and don’t let people — even those closest to us — see. Intentionally or not, Billy Joel taught us a traditional Chasidic idea about Purim.
For many people Purim is a day of letting out the truth, not hiding behind lies and false identities. This is why (according to some thinkers, like the Tsanz Rebbe,) both costumes and drinking have such a prominent place in the holiday’s traditions.
An old Hebrew proverb states “wine entered, secrets emerged.” When someone becomes tipsy he lets out his thoughts and emotions uncensored; the truth is said out loud. Often social restraints and unwritten rules are pushed aside in favor of what the drunk person wants to say — even if we still frown at the person who had too much to drink.
Costumes can have the same affect. When we get dressed up we allow ourselves to do things we couldn’t do on a “normal” day. How many people walk around looking like clowns, princesses or superheroes when it isn’t Purim (or Halloween)? How do we look at those who do?
Purim is another story. Jewish law tells us to get tipsy on the day of the holiday (enough to not differentiate between the good and bad characters in the story of Esther), and an old tradition has us put on makeup, wigs and change our identity to something different.
Tradition tells us that Esther revealed her national identity, knowing it could heavily affect her social status. While the holiday story is filled with festivals, the turning point has to do with being yourself.
For one day we have the chance to be someone else — even something weird — without the inevitable judgemental look from our neighbor. Purim is a day people can express their innermost self. It’s an excuse to “let your lover see the stranger in yourself.”