We are very excited to celebrate the festive and joyous holiday of Purim in Israel, where we walk the streets or drive around enjoying the creativity in people’s costumes!
I remember growing up in the States. Every year, as Halloween rolled around, my Mom would go out to buy little treats for us to give out to the “trick or treaters” who 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 to be the Jewish alternative to Halloween. But is it? What is it really all about?
One of the major differences that I wish 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.
But 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 costume symbolizes this hidden miracle. Things are not always as they appear. G-d is always in our life. 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.
By: Rabbi Moshe Rothchild