“What are you dressing up as for Purim?” In the lead-up to Purim, this question can be frequently heard in Jewish settings.This fascinating holiday tradition brings joy and excitement to all those who celebrate, old and young. There is a much deeper concept beyond which superhero, profession, sports star, and beyond that an individual morphs into for the duration of Purim. Many Purim customs relate to being something other than our usual self, including the tradition of wearing costumes or masks and the ‘Mitzvah’ of drinking.These practices have multiple key aspects: relieving the stress of being judged and unlocking something deep in ourselves, while also pretending to be something else.
The idea of not paying too much attention to the judgment others give us is a very healthy concept to carry over to the other 364 days of the secular year or the other 354 days of the Jewish year. However, it is the other aspect of trying to be something not genuine than ourselves that is important to unleash only on rare occasions such as Purim, ensuring that we strive to remain authentic the rest of the year. Additionally, unlocking something deeper in ourselves is indeed a good phenomenon to pursue, but one should not require heavy alcohol consumption year-round to do so.
Many of us wear metaphorical costumes and masks in our daily lives. There is a desire amongst humans to be something other than ourselves for fear of our deficiencies, and we would often rather be an alternate self rather than a complex and somewhat difficult true self. There is a grave issue in not being authentic to our personalities and emotions. While in the short term, we calm our nerves by avoiding issues that we are afraid to confront, it is that avoidance that will come back to bite us in the long run. Eventually, our feelings will creep out from the rock they are buried under and do us much harm.
Purim and Yom Kippur are often compared to each other due to the similarity in the names. It is therefore appropriate to look at the idea of teshuva, or repentance, and the importance of a genuine apology.
In 1982, Professor Yehuda Gellman of Ben Gurion University published an article in the Tradition Journal titled “Teshuva and Authenticity” where he discusses the importance of being genuine in one’s journey to repentance. He uses the example of the Israelites’ repentance in two respective stories, the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Spies. “When repenting of the sin of the golden calf, the Jewish people are said to have mourned, vayit abbelu (Exodus 33:5). And their teshuvah was accepted. When repenting of the sin of the spies we are told “and the people mourned greatly,” vayit abbelu me’ od (Numbers 14:39). They did the very same. Yet their teshuvah was not accepted.” There is a need to be authentic in one’s repentance and therefore in one’s actions as a whole.
In the Purim story, we see examples of people having to hide their true selves. The word Esther, the title of our megillah, translates to hidden, showing how key this concept is.
Esther, the main protagonist of our story, pretends to be something or omits her true identity in a significant fashion. When she first meets Achashverosh, she refrains from mentioning her Jewish identity and does not do so until much later in the story out of fear for her own life. She eventually reveals her true identity to save her people, which proves successful. Parties are featured prominently in the megillah and are good representatives of something which occurs occasionally but is not authentic to how one behaves in their daily lives. Contrary to what some believe, life is not a party. Rather, life is a constantly flowing stream of highs, lows, and some moments in between. There are joyous occasions that call for a party where one acts in a certain way but it is not authentic to how we usually are.
It would be hypocritical to write this piece without acknowledging my shortcomings in the area of not always being genuine. There are many times when I will act a certain way in a situation to please others. But the first step to being a more authentic person is the recognition of areas where you try to be something else and the desire to embrace yourself.
I believe it is important to ask ourselves tough questions about how we carry out our own lives: Are we acting in a way that represents ourselves or are we trying to replicate the mannerisms and actions of others?
Are we embarrassed by who we are and hiding behind masks and costumes in our daily lives or are we embracing our uniqueness?
Purim proves that it is certainly healthy and even necessary to have days or times in our lives when we put on a costume or a mask and transform ourselves into something else. The importance of being able to be free from the worry of judgment is also emphasized. At the same time, the fact that Purim is a one-day holiday in a year of over 350 days displays the importance of being authentic to ourselves year-round.
Take advantage of Purim’s traditions and have a meaningful and joyful Purim! Chag Sameach!