Addressing Your Masks

God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.

The Book of Genesis starts off with a bang and ends with some dust. In between it is one masquerade after another. The ball gets rolling from the beginning —energy slows down to parade as matter. Then comes the Eden story in which human self-awareness is portrayed as becoming carnal—fleshing out the naked truth. Once again, energy finds a material mask.

The final story, that weaves itself through the latter half of Genesis uses the beguiling motif of dress-up. Clothing, put on or removed, conceals identities and reveals motives; it is a window through which to address the dual nature of masks.

Jacob, father to 12 sons from his four wives, perpetuates the family dynamic of parental favoritism through gifting Joseph with a special royal coat. His brothers address the situation by stripping him of the coat and selling him into slavery. The next time they are to see him, Joseph has a new set of threads. He is the viceroy of Egypt and his brothers address him as royalty, with a deference that acknowledges his power (over them) and position of prestige.

The mask of clothing catalyzed jealousy and the brothers sought to rid themselves of those feelings by removing both the symbol and their brother, dipping the coat in blood and presenting it to their father Jacob. They may have used goat’s blood to deceive, but the blood on the coat was from their own betraying hands.  Their collusion though is on a collision course with their brother and the stain of their guilt that is not so easily wiped off.

Joseph, covering his identity with the cloak of royalty, gives then the full dress down. He recognizes them but they don’t recognize him.  He could easily put an end to their denial—strip them of their cloak of innocence. He chooses instead the route of masquerade, the “play is the thing” for self-revelation—a  different conclusion about their collusion. The longer he stays masked the wider the cracks expand and the brothers’ wall of denial comes tumbling down.

The master Kabbalist, Adin Steinsaltz clarified, that even if we were able to get fully naked, to get down to the bone there would still be, as the stories of Genesis let us know, the mask of our manifesting in form. Perhaps that is why the final verses of Genesis inform us of Joseph’s bones being interred in Egypt. The man who mastered the use of masks is still Joseph.

The eighth principle of awareness is about the masks we wear. There is nothing pejorative about the word “mask” in Kabbalah—it simply connotes the coverings we inhabit, from the clothing of our physical forms, to our character traits to the stories of our families, cultures and religions. We cannot unmask ourselves (one mask will be replaced by another). We can though strive to be aware of all our masks. The mantra to keep in mind: Are you wearing the mask or is the mask wearing you?

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