Two years ago, Purim was the end of the normal world order. Two years ago mask-wearing was for costume contests in schools and synagogues, and they were accompanied by colorful graggers and the sounds of the megillah being chanted. And then the world flipped up-side down. V’nahafoch Hu. Masks changed from being the costume to being the dress codes in our schools and synagogues. The conversation switched from who had the better Spider-Man mask to matching our masks to our outfits and comparing N-95s to surgical grade, triple-ply protection.
Two years later, students in all grade levels in schools across the nation have started to emerge from behind their masks and from our collective fears. The important need for these health protective measures is slowly lifting. Faces and smiles have slowly started to come back into style, and those smiles have come accessorized with audible sighs of relief and outward displays of anxiety slowly starting to dissipate. Slowly.
The obvious parallel between two years of mask-wearing and a holiday of customary mask-wearing begs the question — what is the reason for this Purim custom and what can we learn from it in 2022?
Wearing a mask or costume is emblematic of the major theme of the day — the interplay between the hidden and the revealed within our world. Revealed blatant miracles — like seas splitting and walls tumbling, or dwelling within clouds of glory that protect us while we eat manna from heaven — are celebrated in our major biblical holidays. They took place long ago and at a time, our sages teach us, when seeing such miracles would not have prevented the people from still experiencing free will. These amazing events inspire us at our seder tables, our Shabbat tables, and in our Sukkot every calendar year.
What about the modern world? The world in which we do not see the blatant miraculous hand of G-d obviously intervening? A world in which we see darkness, and sometimes no light on the horizon? A world that only recently witnessed Jews and non-Jews fleeing for their lives, to wait out a storm in an underground train station or bunker — the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Blitzkrieg in London during World War II. Those children and families need that miraculous hand of G-d, and a joy-filled Purim, please G-d. In this more modern world, we can and sometimes do look around and see only coincidence and never G-d’s intervention.
That is the Purim story. A story that does not mention the name of G-d once. A story with so many happenstances and coincidences as to seem like a telenovela. G-d’s ‘face’ is hidden in the modern-world miracle of Purim, and so we hide our faces with masks. Haddassah hid her Jewish identity behind her Persian passing name of Esther — the name itself a play on the Hebrew word for hidden — and so we hide behind our costumes. The Jewish people were saved from potentially history’s most devastating world-wide final solution, and instead rose up and displayed strength and pride in their Jewish identity, revealing and reveling in a new type of Jew — a strong Jew — so we dress up and celebrate.
Of course this message could not be more relevant and more important than right now. Both the physical and subconscious sighs of relief our school communities are beginning to experience mean that our students, our faculties, ourselves — we all are desperately in need of a way to channel and express that relief, that joy, and our gratitude that we have made it thus far through some very difficult times.
Now is when our students, our children, who have been nothing short of miraculously resilient, can look forward to a new, new normal (not sure what round of new we are up to) — a return to a time two years ago, when Purim was Purim, and a mask was a mask. We can begin our return to when masking can be a playful, laugh-filled reminder of the deep and meaningful interaction G-d has in our world. A reminder that we can always see G-d’s guiding hand if we are willing to look just below the surface, just peek under that mask.
We are emerging, thank G-d, into a Purim where our children can laugh a bit louder, feel a bit lighter, and mask-up with a few less worries and woes of the world weighing them down. This time of simcha, of joy, should feel different than in past years, even pre-pandemic years. This year, let us not lose sight of the important message that is barely hiding within our masks.
As we pray yet again for another V’nahafoch Hu we pray for G-d to turn the world right side up once more. With a new heightened appreciation we begin to watch our children swap out N-95s for the mask of a unicorn, a Mordechai, a Transformer, a princess or wand-wielding wizard. Their joy should infect us with relief and laughter. Their contagious joy should infect us all this year, so that we too can better see the guiding hand of G-d hiding there in plain sight all along.