- Ilana Greenberg
Dvar Torah: Wearing Costumes on Purim
Wearing Costumes on Purim: What this Festive Tradition Teaches us about Human Nature and Global Conflict
Wearing costumes is the signature tradition of Purim. “What are you going to dress up as for Purim?” is the first question that anybody gets asked when discussing the holiday, and indeed, dressing up is one of the most widely anticipated parts of the celebration. Many of us are familiar with the idea that costumes signify the ironic turn of events in the Purim story: the success of the Jewish people despite us being a minority. However, as we grow older, we can find even more meaning in this long standing tradition. Can we find a deeper reflection of the holiday’s themes, as well as a reflection of human nature, in wearing costumes?
By definition, costumes are ways of hiding oneself and masking what lies beneath the surface. For one day, we dress up and pretend to be someone that we are not. However, this idea of “hiddenness” permeates past the one day. Often, good hides in evil and difficult circumstances, and sometimes, malice and evil can be obscured beneath good.
The first example that usually comes to mind is Esther’s display of heroism in hiding her identity to save the Jewish people. She pretended to be someone that she was not, and she put on a figurative costume so that she could rise into a corrupt royal government for the sake of thwarting genocide. Battling a corrupt government, a drunk king who threw grand parties, and a dark era that showed no morals, Queen Esther represented a hidden spark of hope. She achieved success due to, not in spite of, the evil. The Jews rose to power because they thwarted Haman’s plan and finally united. Involvement in an evil and corrupt government was a stepping stone to achieving good. Similar good can often be found under the costume of evil- if we can only search for it.
However, the opposite is also true. Often, evil lurks beneath the shrouds of false good. Haman, the second in command to the king, was expected to behave nobly. However, he hid under his costume of political power, which was precisely the cause of his evil. He felt that he had the authority to command Mordechai to bow down to him. He convinced the king to obey him, hiding behind the costume of royal prominence.
This hard truth is extremely relevant to today’s world. It is part of human nature to hide behind costumes. We hide behind lies that we make about ourselves in order to impress the outside world and be well-liked. We hide behind material values that lack substance, such as power, ego, and reputation. This is applicable on both an individual and global scale, as political powers put on costumes to mask the weak underlying values. Haman had the power to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Persia with the stamp of a royal seal, and Putin has the power to annihilate an entire country with the push of a nuclear button. However, we must recognize that this is simply a costume, and without temporary fabrications of power, whether politically or militarily, the underlying good will prevail.
This is why we must remember the original message of good hiding under evil. Zelensky has nothing to hide, and he bravely refused the multitude of offers to escape to safety, despite the threats on his life. Like Esther, he is a Jew in a prominent political position in a foreign country, who does not hide behind fabrications. Rather, he holds onto his inherent values that are beneath the costume.
Costumes are fun, but they are only temporary. Sometimes, costumes are the human shroud of a fool’s gold for weakness to cower behind. Other times, the world puts on a costume and disguises itself in evil and misfortune to hide the underlying power of unity. If we can learn to recognize costumes, we can learn to be wary of what looks good on the surface, while still looking forward to the hidden good that is yet to come.