Not Kansas – Purim 2013
The Guide to Conscious Purim Partying
So yeah, it’s Purim again. You find part of an old tux, a top hat and a fake beard, and you go to the Purim party as Abe Lincoln. You see someone dressed up as Madonna. You walk by each other, you mingle, you dance, you drink too much, you go home, and you can now say to yourself: been there, done that. Yawn. What’s on TV?
Don’t settle for just wearing a costume! That is not enough. We humans deserve more. And as Jews, we have a *tradition* of digging deeper.
Did you stop and think *why* you picked the Abe Lincoln costume? Did you ask Madonna why of all people he dressed up as her?
We should be asking that question of ourselves when we choose our costume. I believe this is a conversation we should be having. Did we choose Abe because we have a burning passion inside for freedom? Because he like to go to plays or because he reminds us of Theodor Herzl? Because he cared so much about equality and was able to go out on a limb for it?
And we should be asking others why they choose their costume, too. I have found that most people actually enjoy explaining about their costume, and that often we can be pleasantly surprised at how deep and meaningful their choice was.
Perhaps we chose Madonna because she, too, expresses a certain kind of freedom. Or maybe the words of one of her songs, although they seemed shallow at first, led you to deeper understandings. Depth and meaning can masquerade as shallowness too. Remember: People are much more amazing than we think they are.
Let’s take a look at some of the Hebrew words for clothes and costumes.
Since every Hebrew word contains a root word, it’s easy to see how words are related to each other.
The Hebrew word for clothes is identical to the root word for traitor. A traitor belongs to one side, and then changes clothes and jumps to join the other side. The clothes you wear do not do you justice. Those external threads betray your deep inner self. You are deeper than the clothes you wear!
The simple meaning of the Hebrew word for coat is “above.” But it’s also the same root word as “fraud.” In its most basic form, a coat is worn above your clothing to keep you warm. But you can coat your actions and be fraudulent.
The Hebrew word for costume is connected to the word for freedom, but also to the word for searching. So as searchers, we’re constantly trying to find the costume that perhaps expresses our inner self, or our hidden dreams, or people we’d like to emulate. And once we do that, we can experience a certain freedom.
The connection between these words hints that there are good sides and bad sides to clothes and costumes. On the one hand, they give you protection and allow you to hide what you don’t want others to see. On the other hand, they can prevent the real “you” from being seen, they don’t do you justice, they can mislead others…and yourself.
It’s interesting how many Biblical instances of costume-wearing there are. There’s a long list, although perhaps Jacob is the most famous of the costume wearers, when he disguised himself as his hairy brother in order to get the blessing from his blind father Isaac. And some have already noted that perhaps the most fascinating costume-wearer in Jewish history is Hashem (aka God, the Creator, the Dude), who moves about this world wearing an invisibility cloak. And yet, a famous Hassidic rabbi known as the Rabbi of Kotzk (19th century Poland) once said that the most dangerous disguise is the one we wear in order to fool ourselves…
In the religious world, people are often trying to show how religious they are. The Rabbi of Kotzk would have nothing of this with his students. You were expected to hide your religiosity. This is only between you and Hashem, and must never be used in public or with ulterior motives. This was the only disguise allowed.
Yes, masks can be good, even today, even faraway from Kotzk. Masks can help us learn how to lose our fear, and how to be ourselves, which often happens when nobody notices us. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: “Give a man a mask and he will show you his true face.”
We need Purim to have an excuse to leave our routine and escape from the familiar and rise above our frameworks and break out of our prisons. We need to let our hair down, but not just so we can say that we’re cool. We do this so that when Purim is over, we can return to our daily lives with more gusto, with recharged batteries, with new eyeglasses, with turbo energy…and perhaps we’ll feel that it’s less crowded there than before.
And if you’re celebrating “Conscious Purim” and you’re drinking with purpose (could be wine, could be water) and you’re dressing up with intent (could be Abe, could be Madonna), make sure you meet and chat with others who are doing the same. When a group of “conscious folks” get together and share, bonds are usually formed, unity is usually felt.
So this Purim, when you go wild, when you push the borders a little, when you act a little out of character (without hurting anybody, including yourself), just remember: it’s for a cause! You’ll know if it worked when you wake up the day after Purim. If you feel a bit more relaxed than usual, a bit more at one with the world, and a bit more full-of-freedom, then you had a successful Purim.
It was Honest Abe who said: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” THAT is true Purim Torah. Now put a costume on yourself and get out there and make like a tree. Like a Prayer.