In Israel now we are in the midst of celebrating the holiday of Purim. We will continue celebrating until the end of the day on Friday. It is so much fun to just walk the streets or to drive around and look at the creativity in the costumes that people are wearing. It is so festive and joyous!
I remember growing up in the States and every year as Halloween rolled around my Mom would go out and buy little treats for us to give out to the “trick or treaters” that would ring our bell. It looked like so much fun but of course as a Jewish family we did not participate other than giving out “treats.” After all, we didn’t want the “trick” which could be eggs thrown at your house or car! To the outsider Purim might appear as the Jewish alternative to Halloween. But is it? What is it really all about?
One of the major differences that I want to highlight is that Purim is about giving out treats while Halloween is about asking for treats. We celebrate Purim by sending food to friends, family and strangers in an effort to build good relationships and love between people. This is the power of giving. Give to someone and paradoxically you actually get back in return. Giving is the best kept secret. It does not diminish you at all—it is one of the most expansive acts.
Still, why do Jews wear costumes on Purim? The tradition is rooted in a fascinating fact about the Torah. There is only one book in the entire Torah that does not contain the name of G-d. Do you know which it is? It is of course the book of Esther! This begs the question why? The answer is that the story in the book of Esther is considered a hidden miracle. The hand of G-d is not obvious like the miracles of the exodus from Egypt. No splitting of the Red Sea, no water turning into blood—just everyday events with a great conclusion. The miracle of Purim is a “behind the scenes” type of miracle. You have to really look carefully to find G-d.
The idea of the costume is to symbolize this hidden miracle. Things are not always as they appear. G-d is always in our life just sometimes He is hidden and sometimes His presence is more obvious. On Passover we celebrate G-d’s obvious hand in the world and on Purim we celebrate the subtle hand of G-d that is tapping us ever so gently on the shoulder reminding us of how much he cares and loves us. The trick is to look at the mask and realize that there is something going on beneath the surface.
This is how we have to look at our friends, family and strangers. Everyone wears masks and they wear them every day. If we remember this it will help us to judge all mankind favorably knowing that beneath the mask there is a spark of G-d in all of us.