Purim: The Masked Holiday
We often think of Purim as a holiday of revelry. We dress in costume and go to boisterous and merry masquerade parties. However, Purim is so much more than that. While Purim is a very fun holiday, there is a much deeper meaning in the holiday and in the tradition of dressing in costume.
Overview of the Story of Esther
The holiday of Purim celebrates the story of Esther. The story opens with King Ahasuerus of Persia searching for a new queen. The king selects young beautiful Esther, an orphan belonging to the Jewish tribe of Benjamin. Esther was adopted by her cousin Mordechai who advises her to hide her Jewish identity from the king.
The king’s Prime Minister, Haman, was a staunch anti-Semite. He initiates an order to kill all the Jews of Persia. Mordechai convinces Esther to use her influence with the king to save the Jewish people. When the king hears of the plot he is outraged that Haman would dare to threaten his new queen. The king then orders that Haman hang in the gallows.
Esther is given the power to overturn Haman’s orders and declares that Jews have the right to defend themselves. Thus when the Jews of Persia were attacked they were triumphant. The day after the attack, the 14th of Adar, they rested a feasted. The celebration came to be known as Purim because Haman cast the “pur”, the lot or fate, for the Jews, but still could not destroy them.
Why we dress in costume at Purim
Purim is much more profound than it seems on the surface. The tradition of dressing in costume represents the masked characteristic of the holiday. Here are some of the reasons dressing in costume is a Purim tradition and how this represents the true messages of Purim.
1. In contrast to other holidays such has Hanukkah and Passover, G-d’s miracle at Purim is not overtly apparent. There was no unnatural event to prove G-d’s presence with the Jewish people. G-d’s presence is known because everyone was in the right place at the right time. The events were beautifully choreographed by G-d, however His influence was masked.
2. Esther originally masked her Jewish identity from the king. She listened to Mordechai who was a faithful Jew which allowed the events G-d orchestrated to unfold.
3. At Purim each adult is to give two different foods to one person and two gifts of charity to two underprivileged people. Masking our identities in costume makes it difficult to differentiate between rich and poor. This increases the love and unity in the community which contradicts Haman’s allegation that there was dissension and disunity among the Jews.
While the world often seems to be just a series of unrelated events G-d is directing the fate of the world and directing the human experience in the world. This is a lesson to remember at Purim and throughout the year.