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Home » Purim

Purim: The Meaning of Masquerade

Submitted by on November 2, 2005 – 4:33 amNo Comment | 2,896 views

The Purim Ritual

Each Jewish holiday has a unique method of celebration. Chanukah is celebrated with the kindling of eight lights. Passover is celebrated with a special diet that requires Jews to eat unleavened bread and prohibits the use of leavened bread. Shavuot is observed through the study of Torah. Each of these observances follows logically from the nature of the holiday itself.

Chanukah commemorates a miracle that allowed Jews in the ancient temple to kindle their candelabra for eight days though they had enough oil to last for only one. Passover commemorates the exodus of ancient Jews from Egypt; they left in great haste and couldn’t wait to let their dough rise. They ate their bread unleavened. Shavuot commemorates G-d’s deliverance of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.

Purim however remains an anomaly. To celebrate Purim Jews dress up in masquerade and make a point of concealing their face. For a religion filled with sobriety there is a great deal of levity associated with this Halloween like practice. A question not often asked is – what is the source of this custom?Purim masquerade - innerstream

The Story of Purim

Our answer brings us to the story of Purim itself. Jews lived in Persia and held respectable positions in government, commerce and academia. They were very comfortable in their new land; they had successfully integrated with the Persian people and had almost completely assimilated into the Persian culture.

The highlight of this Jew / gentile amalgamation came at a Royal feast hosted by King Achashveirosh. Jews were accepted as equals during this feast and were gratified to have received such hospitality in a foreign land; gratified to the point of absolutely turning their backs on their own religion and traditions.

The meteoric rise of the infamous Haman followed this feast and it was Haman who planted the seed of anti-Semitic hatred in the heart of the King. Within several weeks Achashveirosh decreed the annihilation of the entire Jewish nation under his kingdom. Taking into account that Persia was a super power at the time, this threatened the very future of Jewish existence worldwide.

At this point Jews turned to G-d. They prayed, they fasted, they gathered their children and taught them to return to the fold. Alas it was to no avail. This time there were no miracles such as the plagues that struck the Egyptians when Jews were enslaved in Egypt. Walls did not tumble to the ground as they did when Jews entered Jericho. Lightening did not strike and thunder did not crack. The Jewish execution date drew inexorably closer.

When G-d Conceals his Countenance

What were Jews to do at this time? Place yourself in their shoes and imagine their terror. All traditional avenues seemed to have dried up; neither their prayers, nor fasts, nor penitence stood them in good
stead!


Unbeknownst to them this was a blessing in disguise for the time had finally arrived for Jews to learn the art of diplomacy. The time had come for Jews to fend for themselves under the providence of G-d. “Yes,” G-d seemed to be saying to his people, “I am ready to help you, but this time I want you to do some of the work. It is time to stand up and take responsibility. If you own up to the problem, you will find your solution.”

Esther

Salvation came through the personage of Esther. The story of Esther is shrouded in Jewish legend and in Persian myth. She is purported to have been a cousin of Mordechai, who was the leading Jewish sage of his time. Her charm was captivating and her beauty legendary yet she remained steadfast in her piety and observance.

When Achashveirosh ordered the maidens of Persia to participate in a royal beauty pageant Esther was dragged into the palace and paraded before the king against her will. On the advice of her illustrious cousin she kept the nature of her Jewish faith a secret. Oblivious to   the fact that she was Jewish and absolutely smitten by her beauty, Achashveirosh fell in love. Against her will Esther was married to the
king.


When the Jewish execution was written into law Mordechai approached his cousin and pleaded for her help. He asked her to reveal
the secret of her religion to Achashveirosh and plead with him to repeal of the law. Though the revelation of her secret placed her in mortal danger, Esther succeeded in repealing the law.

Thus did the salvation of the Jewish people come about, though the hand of G-d was barely visible. In a breach with history Jewish salvation took on a diplomatic instead of a miraculous role. This was G-d’s way
of saying to his people “I am here for you not only when you see me, but even when you don’t. At times I am hiding but I am still working behind the scenes. All I ask is that you make an effort and I will ensure your success.”

Back to Masquerade

We now return to the peculiar Jewish custom of masquerading on Purim and concealing the face. Jews conceal their faces in memorial to a G-d, who concealed His face during the salvation of Purim. It is a
testimonial to G-d’s presence and His willingness to help despite his apparent lack of presence.

It is an inspiring lesson for every one at every time. Even if your suffering is severe do not despair. You
may not see G-d but He awaits you just behind the scurtain with your salvation in hand. All He wants from us is just a little effort . . . and also a little recognition that He exists.

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