This year as in all of the previous ones, the girls came to school in costume. The most popular one this year as every year was the tichel-expecting-frum looking matron. When my kids were really little dressing them for Purim was a piece of cake. They all wanted to be Queen Esther, a bride, Mordechai, or a Kohen Gadol. Of course, sometimes I dressed them with more originality mostly to give some degree of expression to my own sense of fun. As they grew older, the costumes that they chose changed. The ridiculous, villainous, and innovative ones took over the center stage. What all of these have in common is that the focus is on how others response to the costume rather than what the costume actually says about them or to them. In the pristine purity of Gan they weren't afraid to want to wear costumes that gave you a glimpse into what they wished to be. There weren't any Haman's in Gan.
What costume do you wear?
This isn't just about clothes (although it certainly is also about clothes). It’s about the way you talk, the way you brand yourself. Purim is the time when interestingly everything turns upside down, but in fact what you are left with is closer to reality than the pre-turnabout picture. The Jews in ancient Shushan wore a disguise that was so authentic that even they didn't know who they were when they wore it. Going to Achashveirosh's party felt real, and bowing to Haman seemed pragmatic. When you choose your costume with a feel for what is natural and pragmatic, you may be in for a surprise when you look in the mirror one day and see your real self-looking back at you. Maharal says that that's what happened to Vashti. When she saw an animal (with a tail!) looking back at her it was in fact a flash of recognition that she had lost any semblance of human dignity.
I will disguise this story (how appropriate for Purim),
Gila was a star. Everyone forgot her difficult background; she could neither forgive nor forget her chaotic painful soap opera of a family. The unending barrage of criticism, the high drama yelling and screaming left a mark. School was her refuge. She was the head of the chessed committee and the valedictorian. When she married Menachem, she had every reason to think that the rest of her life would be like the end of a frum version of Cinderella. It didn't turn out that way. Menachem had his own story. He was undeniably brilliant. His need to excel left him no room for himself or for anyone else. He had time for his learning-at least sixteen hours a day worth. When the financial crunch forced him into business, his schedule barely changed. His devotion to his career dwarfed his devotion to Torah. There was no time for Gila, the children, and slowly for anything except the firm, the profits, the branding and the market. Gila wanted out. She couldn't bear the isolation, the reality of being a single parent while still married, and the feeling that things can only get worse. When she turned to her Rabbi, he didn't console her with platitudes. He encouraged her to support the idealism that attracted her and that no doubt was still there. "It's wearing a different costume," he told her. She wasn't sure that she understood either what he meant, or its truth, but it left her with empty hands.
Not for long.
When one of the members of the community was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the Rav called Menachem. "I'll be over on Friday afternoon when I finish work. I know there are expenses, and you know that I am always there to help," he said as soon as the Rav began to tell him about the unfolding tragedy. "That's not the problem," he said. "They need someone with presence and smarts to help them get through the beurocracy. You can face down the jobnicks that are making Sofia's life impossible. Menachem's wife is holding up, but I don't know how much more she can handle". The Rav added, "I can't do it. She needs someone like you to speak to Bituach Leumi (the Israeli social service) and the insurance company." Menachem reluctantly took out his twin brother (the smartphone or whatever gadget he had that made a smartphone look like a technological dinosaur). He wrote a memo, and a few days later got to work He did his job. Something interesting happened. He had to lay it on thick; he had to speak about Menachem's wife Sophia, her need for real help and her isolation. It worked. It also worked for him. He saw himself in an entirely different light. He realized that his "costume" – financial genius, generous provider and pillar of the community were just overlay. He was self-absorbed and had done to Gila what Menachem's illness had done to his wife. He was stuck in an unending masquerade. Things changed slowly at first, and it was literally years before he recognized that he had rediscovered himself. He re-examined his ambitions, his role as a servant of Hashem, and eventually let go of the costume completely. He is still ambitious and always will be. The difference is that what was once an ends has now become a means.
The reason that I am telling you this story just a few days before Purim is that there is no better time than now to turn things over. Remember who you are, were, and want to be.
Love, and all the best for a happy, open and great all around Purim!