by Dr. David Sanders
In her article, Many Masks, Many Selves, Professor Wendy Doniger relates the following:
“When Ronald Reagan auditioned for the role of the President of the United States in the 1960 Broadway production of Gore Vidal’s play, The Best Man, about the presidential election, Vidal turned him down because he didn’t think Reagan would be believable as President. When asked about this in 2002, Vidal said, “Reagan was a first rate actor as President.” Doniger circles around the profound insight that people often are drawn to self-impersonation. She concludes her article that our pretense in donning a mask only proves that we are never unmasked.
If Vidal rejected Reagan for an acting role as the U.S. President, one can wonder what Vidal would have said about casting Volodymyr Zelenskyy as President of Ukraine, in the television comedy series, Servant of the People. It was Zelenskyy’s final acting role before he was elected President of Ukraine.
Some 2500 years ago a young girl named Hadassah may well have play-acted what it would be like to be the Queen of Persia. Little could she have imagined that she would one day wear that crown and be the heroine of her people.
(Zelenskyy and Esther share a common Jewish bond and disregard for their own personal safety to ensure the survival of their people).
Next week is the festival of Purim in which the story of Esther’ ingenious masquerade is told. It is a holiday to engage in our own masquerade, pretending to be who we might one day be destined to be.
To paraphrase the words of my teacher, Reb Zalman-Schachter Shalomi:
“I like the word pre-tend, because that means I get there before I am there. Every attunement calls for some kind of pre-tending. How do I become a saint? I pretend to be a saint. I don’t mean I pretend socially to be a saint to people , rather I say, ‘The next half hour I will live in my best understanding of how a saint lives.’ It’s not that I am a saint but I am experiencing what that ideal can be.”
We may not aspire to be a saint, a queen or a president. We may never be called to live or lead in that way. We are all though called to lead. What leader will you pre-tend to be?
You can learn more about Kabbalah Experience’s conversation around Masks in our self study series, available to download and watch on your own schedule