Purim: Removing the Mask of Fear

Purim is lifted by the rabbis to an exalted place, “Purim will never be abolished.” It is the one holiday that will exist for all time.
February 28, 2023
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Torah teaches that “you shall rejoice in your festivals,” bringing opportunities to bless, to sing, to share in convivial celebration, but none so outrageously as the holiday of Purim. It is between Hanukkah and Pesach and all three share historical reminders of predominant cultures attempting to control, persecute, and annihilate Judaism. These holidays share a common goal, to defeat the autocrat and establish freedom to express our religious values and customs.

Purim, however, is lifted by the rabbis to an exalted place, “Purim will never be abolished.” It is the one holiday that will exist for all time. In fact, the Book of Esther, which we are commanded to read, states “Days of Purim will not pass … their memory will not cease for generations to come.” What makes this text, of all the writings in the Bible, so important and so timeless, that it is as relevant in the present and the future as it was in the past. In fact, it is a story where G-d is, at least on the surface, not present. G-d’s name never appears. It is a tale of hidden identities, courtly flaunting, political intrigue, exaggeration and bawdy excesses, drinking and sexual orgies — basically a carnivalesque happening with dark overtones of manipulations and evil aspirations.

As a whole, it is itself a mask covering deeper social inequities and a world that is upside down. Both an anti-Semite and a misogynist, the King in the end is brought to their knees by two Jewish protagonists, Mordechai, leader of the Jews and his adopted cousin, Es-teir, who becomes the Queen. In a time when men ruled the earth, it is a woman who transforms history and foreshadows the Passover story, where it is the women, as well, who save the Jews.

Based on a statement in Torah, “G-d will surely hide His/Her face…” “Hasteir panim,” the rabbis believe this book is written as a creative endeavor to comfort those in Exile in Persia. The tradition teaches that the exiles are punished for abandoning G-d and choosing idols and material objects and endowing them with power and influence over their lives. This book comes to assure the people redemption is possible, even when G-d appears concealed. Es-teir represents this ‘hiddenness’ of the Divine. The spelling of the word Hasteir is closely aligned with the spelling of our heroine’s name, Es-teir. Even as she hides her Jewish identity, wearing the mask of royal clothing, the Kabbalist teach she is truly the indwelling of the Divine. The book states “Es-teir was clothed in royalty,” It doesn’t say dressed in royal clothing, just “Tilbash Malchut,” which means “donned in royalty,” but mystically represents the female indwelling of G-d, Shechinah. Beneath the veil of simple understanding lies deeper meanings. 

In another chapter the word appears again, as “Keter Malchut,” “Crown of Royalty,” which mystically represents the Tree of Life, from the most heavenly, all- encompassing Divine presence to the most physical/earthly and all that exists in between. The continually veiled references to G-d is what lies beneath the mask, the covering that often hides who we truly are and the Divine spark within. The holiday encourages the outrageous expression of frivolity and drunkenness at a moment when we are reminded the enemy lurks ready to destroy us. 

Then Mordechai says to Es-teir, “Who knows, maybe you have attained this royal position for a purpose?” The Hebrew says, “HaGittah l’Malchut” which literally means ‘to be touched or to arrive at’ her royal station, but it veils the deeper meaning that she has ‘reached’ her purpose, to be Shechinah, the One Who accompanies, holds and protects the people when they are in exile. If you change one letter in “HaGittah,” from Ayin to Hay, the mask is lifted higher to reveal an even deeper meaning, “to shine and give light.” 

This is the more powerful lesson that the ‘light’ must shine forth, as the book states, “Lay’hudim Hay’tah Orah,” “Light is with the Jews,” a phrase we repeat every Shabbat at its end in Havdalah. It is not only Es-teir who reveals the Holy Spirit. It is upon us as well when we remove the mask of fear and inauthenticity and reveal our strength and holy intentions.


Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery: A Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.”

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