by Melanie Gruenwald
Today we mark the Jewish holiday of Purim.
Purim is a story of many layers. One of the main characters of the story is Esther, a commoner who enters into a beauty contest to become the next queen of Persia. Esther hides her Jewish identity, puts on the mask of “beauty queen”, wins the favor of the King, and through this charade of hiding and then revealing her identity, she saves the Jewish people.
What is concealed, becomes revealed.
At Purim, Jews sometimes drink until we can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman. Both young and old wear costumes to the Purim festivities. Concealing, yet revealing.
We choose which ‘masks’ to reveal or to conceal ourselves. We choose what aspects of our identities to share. We choose which aspects to hide— and the concealment actually becomes a revealment.
Will I be Glenda the Good Witch or Wonder Woman this year? Or will I be ‘not in the mood’ and don a simple, silly hat? Concealing and also revealing.
In what ways does the alcohol consumption on Purim become a mask- concealing, yet revealing.
Interestingly, the name Esther, means hidden. According to the narrative, Queen Esther was born with the name הֲדַסָּה Hadassah (“Myrtle”). She changed her name to Esther to hide her Jewish identity. The three letter root of Esther in Hebrew is s-t-r (סתר), “hide, conceal”. Her name is a most revealing mask!
Daniel Matt shares in Essential Kabbalah:
When powerful light is concealed and clothed in a garment, it is revealed. Though concealed, the light is actually revealed, for were it not concealed, it could not be revealed. This is like wishing to gaze at the dazzling sun. Its dazzle conceals it, for you cannot look at its overwhelming brilliance. Yet when you conceal it—looking at it through screens—you can see and not be harmed. So it is with emanation: by concealing and clothing itself, it reveals itself.
~ Shim’On Lavi (16th century) Ketem Paz, quoted in Daniel Matt’s Essential Kabbalah, Creation: The Hidden Light
The layers of energy form matter, and matter (the “garment”) conceals the light. Without the layers, and differentiation, would we be able to perceive the light?
If Esther did not hide her identity, could she have saved the Jewish people? Concealed, yet revealed.
When we care deeply about something or someone, sometimes it is hard to share our feelings. But there can be ways that love comes out—concealed, yet revealed.
As a friend shared in Coffee and Kabbalah today— we ought to remove the M from the mask- simply ASK. How do we approach people from a place of curiosity and not make assumptions about who a person is just by the masks they wear? And also we need to look internally to consider—what aspects of our selves are being revealed by the masks we wear? What is revealed about us, by what we conceal?
When we share our scars from life, our stories and vulnerabilities, or the complexity of our identities – we are revealing.
Masking and unmasking become verbs. Hand in hand they exist.
This holiday, we put on physical masks and costumes. We turn the world on its head, and nothing is as it appears. But maybe it is, truly a Purim custom of revealing, rather than concealing, the light.