Ah, Purim. Perhaps the most beautiful and fun holiday of all. It is the day when everyone wants to be Jewish and everyone wants to participate. I remember my year in Israel, Purim was an extraordinary sight to behold. Everyone would get into the spirit of the holiday, music and dancing filled the streets, and even the bus drivers would wear costumes when doing their stops. It is a holiday of festive eating, parties, gift-giving of food baskets, charity giving, dressing up, music, dancing, plays, and of course drinking. The holiday that everyone would characterize as happy, uplifting, festive, and above all else, fun. And who doesn’t want a fun holiday?
And yes, it is true, Purim is most certainly a fun holiday. But of course, like all the Jewish holidays, there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Purim is, in some ways, the deepest Holiday of them all. One of the most well-known customs on Purim is to dress up with masks and costumes. This seemingly superficial “fun” custom is actually laden with deeper meaning. On Purim we remember that in the world, nothing is as it seems. All of the superficiality of the world, the world of Amalek is not the real world, the real world is that which is underneath. In fact, the words Megillas Esther, which literally means “The Scroll of Esther” can have another meaning as well. Megillah can also mean Megaleh which means “To Reveal” and “Esther” can come from the word “Haster” which means “Hidden.” Thus, the words Megillas Esther can mean “To reveal that which is hidden!” An extraordinary idea indeed.
In fact, many of the main characters in the Esther story wear masks, sometimes not really identifying who they really are, or what their true motives are. Haman pretends to have the only the king’s best interests in mind when he advises the king to annihilate the Jewish People, pretending that the Jews are a threat to his kingdom since they follow their own laws and customs, and not those of the rest of Persia. In reality, he sought to destroy the Jews for his own evil genocidal wishes, as he was the descendant of Amalek, the ancient biblical tribe that was best on the destruction of the Jewish People. Mordechai never reveals that he is a relative and friend of Esther’s, he pretends to be a simple person who happened to save the King’s life. It is Esther who reveals it to the king at the end, that Mordechai is of course her friend and relative. And of course, Esther herself wears a mask, she pretends to be a gentile Queen, never revealing her Jewish identity, till the very end of the Esther story.
But of course, there is one more who wears a mask throughout the story, and this is none other than the Master of the World Himself. God’s name is never mentioned once in the Megillah. In fact, the entire Purim story seems to come about completely through natural occurrences as there are no open miracles in the story. The Talmud alludes to this idea as well. The Talmud asks “Where do we find a hint to Esther from the Torah? From the verse “Anochi Aster, haster mipani” which means “Behold I will hide My Face from you.” The word Aster, is a play on words and can hint to the name “Esther” which has as we said above can mean “Hidden.” Indeed, God is “Hidden” throughout the story and it is up to us to see His Hand. This is the beautiful irony, Amalek, as manifested through Haman in our story is trying to deny the Hand of God in everything, and right in this same story, God is telling us that although He appears to Hidden, in fact he is orchestrating the whole story! When we are reading the story and celebrating Purim, we are being Megalleh Esther, we are “Revealing that which is hidden.” God only reveals Himself toward the very end, when all seems lost, and the decree against the Jewish People is sealed. Even then, it only says “Hamelech,” the King, “couldn’t sleep. “The King” the commentators say here, was a reference to the King of All Kings, for He could no longer sleep to the cries of His People.
This also can explain an enigmatic passage in the Talmud. The Talmud in one place says that the Jewish People reached a higher spiritual level at the time of the redemption in the Purim story than at the Revelation at Mount Sinai. How are we to understand this? Mount Sinai was the greatest revelation ever given to Man in history! How can the Purim story possibly be greater than that? But herein lies the answer; for the revelation was just that, it was an open manifestation of God in the world, but Purim was revealing God in the world even in natural occurrences. When the Jewish People were able to destroy Haman not only physically, but ideologically at the end of the Purim story and reaffirm God’s Hand in everything, even in the course of nature, that, indeed was a greater spiritual level.
So, what is the message of Purim? Having an understanding that this entire world is a Mask. The Real World always remains underneath the surface. In life so often we wear masks, afraid to show our true spiritual selves. So on Purim, we purposely wear the Mask and this time to expose the Mask for what it really is; nothing more than a façade. And we drink to the point of openly showing our inner spiritual joy. We read the Megillah story and see the secret Hidden Hand of God revealed once and for all. It is therefore no surprise that the Talmud says Purim is the one Holiday which will be continued after the Moshiach (Messiah) has come. And the Talmud compares our exile to
night” but the Purim story to “dawn.” For when dawn comes, all is revealed, and what once appeared to be dark is now bathed in shimmering sunlight. Let us all remember this beautiful message of Purim, and indeed reveal the inner beauty within, and appreciate God’s Hand in all that we see and do.
The above essay in a small excerpt from the Purim chapter in my newest book “For Every Season: Illuminating Insights on the Jewish Holidays which can be purchased here.