Thursday, March 01, 2007

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The Mask of Purim

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

As is true for all holidays, Purim comes to stress a specific teaching. The main spiritual subject emphasized on Purim’s is hiding.

First, the story of Esther, which is the story of Purim, is the only book of the entire Torah that does not explicitly mention God’s name.

Next, we see that garments are a central theme in this book. Garments are used to cover the body in order to protect or hide.[i] The king’s wife was commanded to appear without garments - that is, totally revealed.[ii] When Mordechai heard news of the evil decree that was set to destroy the Jewish people, he ripped his garment and sat at the gate, dressed in sackcloth.[iii] When Queen Esther heard that Mordechai was dressed in sackcloth, she sent him proper garments in order to replace his sackcloth.[iv] When she went before the king to begin the downfall of Haman, she put on her royal garments.[v] When the king wanted to reward Mordechai for saving his life, he dressed him in royal garments.[vi] When the decree was given that the Jews would be saved, “Mordechai went out from the king in royal garments of blue and white, with a great golden crown, and a wrap of linen and purple.”[vii]

What the story of Esther has come to teach by stressing these garments is best understood with a parable:

Once, there was a holy king. This king was not just an ordinary king, however regal an ordinary king might be. Rather, this king demonstrated his royalty by exuding a wondrous feeling of bliss that radiated from his presence. This feeling was so strong and so enjoyable that when his subjects would be invited into the king’s palace for a feast, they would say, “This feeling emanating from the king is so wonderful, if only there could be more of it.” They reasoned that the only thing stopping the king's bliss from entirely filling the room was their own bodies, which took up so much space.

They decided to shrink in order to leave more room for the king’s bliss. And it worked. As they shrunk, more and more bliss filled the room. They enjoyed the additional bliss so much that they shrunk again, and then there was even more bliss. It felt so wonderful that they shrunk even further, and there was even more bliss. They kept shrinking and shrinking until, finally, they completely disappeared.

Unfortunately, this left the king with a problem. “I want to enjoy a feast with my subjects, but every time I invite them over,“ he complained, “they disappear on me. I want to eat and drink with my friends, but everyone I invite into the palace evaporates right before my eyes. I don’t want to eat and drink all this food by myself.”

“Wait a minute, I know what I can do,” he reasoned. “After all, I am the king, so I can do whatever I want. I’m going to apportion myself around the banquet table. I am going to take small portions of myself and form these individual portions into different people, and on each person I am going to put a distinct mask. Each portion is going to see itself solely as the person that its mask depicts. And this mask is going to be stuck on each portion so that none of them will be able to remove its mask for the entire party. Maybe some portions will be able to sneak a peek from time to time, but for the most part the masks are going to be permanently affixed.”

What a party it will be! There will be eating and drinking and grand entertainment, with everyone ordering whatever he wants, and everyone eating whatever he orders. Then, at the appropriate time, when the feast is over, the strings holding on the masks will be loosened and each portion will be able to lift off its mask. Then everyone will see it was really only me sitting there the entire time.

This is the hidden story of Purim. This is the reason we wear masks and costumes on Purim, hiding our true identity. The truth is, only the King is here.

And this is why on Purim we drink so much that we become drunk. We learn that when the wine goes in, the mysteries come out. This year, when you are so very drunk, try to recall who you really are. Take a peek under your mask.

[i] Also see Genesis - Vayeishev above
[ii] Esther 1:11 Only wearing her crown
[iii] Esther 4:1
[iv] Esther 4:4
[v] Esther 5:1
[vi] Esther 6:11
[vii] Esther 8:15

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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