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WHY DO WE MASQUERADE ON PURIM?

Friday, 10 March, 2017 - 12:00 pm

 A young boy entered a barber shop. The barber whispered to his customer, "This is the dumbest kid in the world. I'll prove it." The barber put a two quarters in one hand and a dollar in the other, then asked the boy, "Which do you want?" The boy took the quarters and left.

"See?" said the barber. "That kid never learns!"

When the customer left, he saw the same boy exiting the ice cream store. "Hey, son! Can I ask you something? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?"

The boy licked his ice cream and replied, "Because the day I take the dollar, the game's over!"

There is a strange Jewish custom which we will experience on Sunday: Every year on Purim we dress in costume. No matter what mask or costume is chosen, the theme is always the same: Try to look like someone or something other than your regular self.

Why do we do this? What is the meaning behind this custom? You might say: It is our Halloween. Someone decided to create more fun on Purim. But in truth, every Jewish custom has profound depth and meaning.

Indeed, the custom of dressing up on Purim captures the very theme of the holiday, a theme we must recall today.

In a book famous for its conciseness, the story of Esther stands apart as one of the most detailed and intriguing in the entire Torah. It reads like a novel, filled with suspense, mystery and drama. Events in the opening of the narrative are understood only at its conclusion.

The biblical thriller opens with the Persian king, Achasverosh, throwing a party for 187 days. On the final day, he is completely drunk, and summons the queen to show off her beauty. She refuses, and he has her killed.

In chapter two, we read of the king’s depression over the loss of his wife. He searches for years for a new queen to replace Vashti. Four years after Vashti’s death, Esther becomes the new queen of Persia.

Chapter three commences begins five years later, when the king appoints Haman as his top aide. Haman influences the Persian monarch to exterminate every last Jew living in his 127 provinces. Then, from chapter four onward, in a series of stunning events, Esther manages to transform the situation; Haman is killed and Jewry is saved. We are here to tell the story! The prophets and sages of the time established the day of salvation as an eternal Jewish holiday—Purim, when there is a mitzvah to read and listen to the actual story recalled in the biblical book of Esther, known as the Megillah (the scroll).

This, essentially, is one of the key messages of the Megillah. The Megillah teaches us that even that which is not part of the story—is really all part of the story. How is the fact that a king made a feast for 187 days connected to the ultimate purpose of creation? How does that contain meaning? How is that at all related to G-d's plan for His world? Yet in reality, a decade later we discover that the events of that feast are what led to the salvation and rescue of the entire Jewish nation! All of the details of history, even those which appear as being isolated, self-contained events, are—from G-d’s perspective and in the understanding of Judaism—part of the ultimate story.

Why do we disguise ourselves on Purim? Because on Purim nothing is as it seems. Was Vashti's banishment one of those things that just happens when a debauched Persian emperor gets drunk? Was it just coincidence that Mordechai happened to overhear a plot to kill the king? Did Achashverosh choose Esther to be his queen because she happened to be the most beautiful woman in the empire? Was it plain bad luck that Haman visited Achashverosh right when Mordechai's heroic deed was being read to him? Did Achashverosh's flippancy and Esther’s charm make the king hang his favorite minister?

Purim was instituted because during that time, the Jewish people understood that it was G‑d Himself who did all of the above, to save His people. He was just disguising Himself as a Persian palace soap opera.

When G‑d took the Children of Israel out of Egypt on Passover, the entire neighborhood resonated with the miracles wrought by the G‑d of the Hebrews. When a small jug of oil burned for eight days on Chanukah, the most skeptical Hellenist saw that it was an act of G‑d. Purim is unique in that the most miraculous of salvations was shrouded in the garments of nature, luck and coincidence. G‑d was hidden and remained hidden—His name does not once appear in the entire Megillah!

Purim is a masquerade. Esther means “I shall hide.”

Our lives are made up of many different fragments. We are often torn between diverse duties and inclinations. We have so many conflicts and much confusion.

But Purim teaches us that it is all part of one cohesive story. If you introduce G-d into your life, if you view life from His vantage point, then even a Persian party is part of the story of G-d helping the Jews transform the world through Torah and Mitzvot.

In 1840, the First Opium War took place between China and Britain. It was essentially a conflict about foreign trade in China. Finally, in 1842, the treaty of Nanjing was signed, which turned Shanghai into an international city, open for trade for people of all countries.

If you were reading this story in the paper in 1842, you would not see anything essential to the story of the Jewish people and our mission in the universe. It was just another bloody and tragic conflict in the East.

Then, 100 years later, we discovered that this was part of a tapestry of events that saved generations of Jews.

There was only ONE CITY in the world where Jews fleeing Hitler could enter and stay without a Visa: SHANGHAI! They were refused entry into every other country, including the US, Britain, and Palestine. As a result, some 60,000 Jews were saved from the gas chambers by fleeing to Japan, and from there to China, where they remained during the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews are alive today because in 1840, a war between Britain and China opened Shanghai's gates to refugees.

This is the story of Purim. This world has a director; He put us here for a purpose. And every event in the world leads to that purpose. We must never forget we are central players in the drama of history—and your mitzvah can tip the scale. You have the power to influence and impact the entire world. Use it!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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