From the Pulpit: It may be Purim, but take off your mask!

By Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg, Temple Israel

“A Jewish doctor buys a fabulous home in Beverly Hills and brings in a local workman to decorate the place. When he’s finished, the homeowner is delighted, but suddenly realizes that he’s forgotten to put mezuzahs on the doors. He buys 50 mezuzahs and asks the guy to place them just as he shows him on the right-hand side of each door. He’s worried that the labourer will chip the paint or won’t put them up correctly, but when he comes back a few hours later he sees that there are 50 slanted mezuzahs all perfectly placed on the doors. He’s so pleased that he gives the man an extra $100. As the guy is walking out the door he says, ‘Hey doc, glad you’re happy with the job. Oh, by the way, I took out the warranties in the all those little boxes and left them on the table for you!’”

It is quite normal to spend time worrying about outside appearances, though as this story (which can be found on multiple Jewish joke websites) suggests, one mustn’t forget what’s inside as well! Often the inner essence holds the true meaning. It’s at this Purim season that we reflect on how to personally carry our Judaism forward. This is a delicate topic. We’re witnessing that antisemitism is on the rise. We aspire to be safe, but this does not mean that we should hide our true selves. On the contrary, we should demonstrate our commitment to our faith with pride. We’re blessed in Canada to live in a society that affirms diversity and multiculturalism.

Looking to the Purim story, our heroine Esther chose to reveal her Judaism to the king when her people were threatened with annihilation. We admire her bravery in this vital time of great danger. It’s also fair to ask difficult questions: What would have happened if she had displayed her Judaism when she was selected to be queen?

After being crowned, would it not have been ideal for her to share such an important part of her background?

These questions are for us to ponder, but it is certainly possible that the story would have played out differently if Esther had proactively shared her Judaism earlier.

It is important to note that there is a difference between hiding one’s Judaism and choosing not to display it publicly. Which route do we take in our lives? Are there places where it might be appropriate to show that our religious ways are different? Do we wear emblems that point out our Judaism?

Do we fear standing out? Too often we don’t reflect on these essential questions that represent our individual and communal identities.

On Purim we wear costumes and masks. It is fun to pretend that we are something that we are not. It is OK to take on different roles in different situations. Balancing the importance of emphasizing our Judaism and acting in ways more in tune with the society around us is appropriate. However, there comes a time to take off our masks. Beneath them, we must care for and appreciate our internal being.

As we celebrate with spirit the festival of Purim, let us nurture our Jewish essence and take note of the concern that we must give to affirming our Jewish identities with pride.