“I Will Hide My Face On That Day”: The Hidden Dimension of Purim
The Sages relate the following verse from Deuteronomy to the upcoming holiday of Purim:
:וְאָֽנֹכִי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר פָּנַי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא
V’Anochi haster astir panai bayom hahu.
And I will hide My face on that day.
The words “הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר/haster astir” both share the same root as אֶסְתֵּר/Esther, the heroine of the Purim story. The root סתר means “secret” or “hidden,” and the Purim narrative is all about the hidden workings of God in our lives. God is not mentioned explicitly once in the entire Megillah, but all of the miraculous happenings of the story are proof of His constant presence and influence even though it is not overtly seen.
The Chassidic masters notice a peculiarity about the verse quoted above. It is simply translated as “I will hide my face,” but the word for “hide,” “אַסְתִּיר/astir,” is repeated twice – “הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר/haster astir” – so the literal reading is “I will HIDE HIDE my face.” The common explanation for such repetition in Torah is that the word is doubled for emphasis, so the verse would read “I will certainly hide my face.” But the mystics interpret the words more literally as, “I will HIDE the HIDING of my face.”
With this reading, they identify a reference here to the primary existential quandary of this reality: not only is this world founded on concealment (the Hebrew word “olam/world” shares a root with the word “helam/hiddenness”), but this situation of concealment is itself concealed so that we are not even aware that the we are in the dark. We are so discombobulated that we have come to confuse the darkness for light. We are so blind that we don’t even realize that we cannot see.
The first step then is to know that we are supposed to be looking for something. Before we can reveal what has been hidden, first we must reveal that there is something to reveal. Once we do that, then we can begin to search. And once we begin to search, only then can we find what we are looking for. If we are not looking, we will certainly never find it. Not only don’t we know where to look, we don’t know what we’re looking for, and we don’t know that we are lacking, and therefore looking, at all.
Most of us have some sense that we are missing something, some nagging sensation of emptiness deep within us. There is a void, a yearning, a thirst, but we don’t know how to fill or slake it. So we try to ignore it. We distract ourselves with every manner of entertainment and diversion. Or we attempt to numb or drown our emptiness with substances, chemicals, or other addictions that may temporarily mitigate our angst, but which can never fully eradicate it. This is the darkness that conceals the darkness.
The only solution is to admit and confront the presence of absence within us. There is something missing. I am deficient of something. That is not a defect or a shortcoming, it is the nature of the human condition. I need not panic in response to my lack. I needn’t try desperately to deny and disown it. I am not abnormal or defective. On the contrary, it is how I and all of us were created. There is no one whole, but there is, rather, a hole within each of us. Our lifelong task is to fill it, but first we must acknowledge it is there.
This is why we dress up in costumes on Purim. We openly declare the nature of our concealment – the hiddenness has been hidden (“haster astir”), but on this day we put on masks to signify our recognition of the masks we wear throughout our lives. We are halachically mandated to disorder our senses with wine on this one day of the year in admission of the unreliability of our sensate experience. We care for the poor among us to remind ourselves that there is truly no difference between us, and that what is ours is theirs as well. We give gifts to one another and joyfully celebrate the fact that the ultimate Godly unity is always disguised within the material diversity of our temporal existence.
— Excerpted from PNEI HASHEM, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah. www.pneihashem.com