Caption: Lod, Israel, 1953...In her First Grade Purim play, Rabbi David Eshel's mother, pictured on the left, played Queen Esther, her hero to this day.
You can listen to Rabbi Eshel's Shabbat message here.
When my mother was a little girl growing up in Israel, her favorite holiday was always Purim. Sure, she enjoyed the parties, the costumes, and even hearing the story of Purim read out loud in the synagogue as she hid behind her father’s leg. But her favorite part was dressing up like Esther. Her love for this holiday started when she was chosen one year to be Esther in the school play. And ever since that moment she looked forward every year to pretend… pretend to be this Jewish female hero, the one who stood up for the Jewish people, the one who hid her true Jewish identity until she could no longer sit idly by while someone else, the evil Haman, decreed that all Jews would be killed. Esther was a hero for my mother… and even today sitting on her mantel above the fireplace sits a picture of her dressed as the queen sitting in front of her class.
This love of Purim continues in our own community. All last week throughout our schools and programs, campus to campus to campus, all filled with excitement, joy, laughter, singing, hamentashen, and dunk tanks! We all had so much fun wearing our costumes, from Esther to Mordecai to Hamen, to ketchup bottles, to Joe Bruin, changing and hiding our identities for a day.
We hide our identities for the day in honor of the holiday and in honor of our Queen Esther because hiding her true identity - that she is a Jew - is what Mordecai instructed her to do until she is called upon to save her people by risking her life and revealing herself.
In my conversations with our Wilshire Boulevard Temple 2nd graders this past week, we came to the conclusion that we missed and are missing an even greater opportunity to truly honor Queen Esther.
The question came up, “Why hide?” And the conversation led us to say the opportunity to honor Esther is actually to do the opposite of the norm. Yes, we can and should still wear costumes and masks for fun and games. However, our second graders recognized that we don't only wear masks to hide our identity on Purim. Some, maybe many, mask themselves all the time, hiding who we really are. What if Purim can be the opportunity to inspire us to take off our masks?
When we remove our masks, we remove that which hides our true selves…hides our true selves from friends, family, those we love or those we would like to love. Perhaps, like Esther, we can take a risk and reveal ourselves.
This is clearly more difficult to do than finding the right costume. But it’s potentially much more meaningful. How many of us would like to tell that special someone how we feel? How many of us still have unfinished business with family or friends? How many of us yearn for a closer relationship with our spouse, partner, children, or other family members? Well, with Purim in the rearview, now is our opportunity to take some risks, to open up, and reveal our true selves.
My mom had the right idea as a little girl. We all need those heroes in our lives to inspire us to be our best. And our best self is when we take off our masks, leading to a life of meaning, a life of connection, a life not hidden by fear but a life revealed in courage and strength