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Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask

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Avraham Nissim as the Splitting of the Sea
Avraham Nissim as the Splitting of the Sea

I’m trying to decide how to dress my two year old up for Purim. He’s our first child and I remember last year I almost didn’t make him a costume because it seemed silly to dress up a baby. But in the end, with the excitement of everyone getting dressed up, I did make him a costume. I cut a piece of felt and made it into a tunic and glued fish all over it. He was the “splitting of the red sea.” My son, Avraham Nissim, who was born on the last day of Passover and whose second name means “miracles,” is our little miracle child. I became pregnant with him after a three and a half year journey of fertility treatments. The miracle of the splitting of the red sea was thus a perfect costume.

This year once again I had the dilemma as to which costume to choose for him. I remember hearing a learned woman say that one should never disguise their children on Purim in a costume that represents something negative. “Don’t put them in costumes as How we dress influences us and our actions monsters or gangsters,” she warned. The costume is an element of the essence of the person; it leaves an impression on the soul. How we dress influences us and our actions.

The whole idea of dressing up and wearing masks on Purim is interesting. The name of G‑d is never mentioned in the story of Purim. Yet G‑d is alluded to when the story speaks of “the King,” but you will not find His name written anywhere in the Purim megilla (the scroll where the story is written upon). One of the reasons why we dress up is to “hide” ourselves just as G‑d was hidden from us. When you hide, you know of course that you exist. On Purim this is an act of faith as we demonstrate that even when the presence of G‑d is hidden from us, He’s always present.

Not just on Purim, but everyday we use our dress as a disguise or as a means of hiding and revealing. I remember how I used to dress ten years ago. Nothing was hidden. I have an attractive body and I let the world see it. Everything was revealed, but “me”, as a person, was certainly hidden. Now, while I still care about being attractive, my goal is no longer to attract. My dress hides the exterior and the interior, “me,” is allowed to break out in the open.

I’ve always been very much an individual. I took great care in trying to form my own style and portray myself as “unique” with my clothes. However, I realized the more eccentric I tried to be with my exterior; the more I ironically looked like everyone else who was also trying to be trendy and different. Before I became observant I remember seeing “religious” people and thinking to myself, “They all dress the same, they’re so boring.” As I got to know them more and more I began to discover the uniqueness of each individual. The seemingly similarity in their outward appearance forced me to look inside and see each as person for who they really were. In contrast, my former fashionable garb acted as a barrier to who I really was. People saw the outside and didn’t look any further.

When the Torah mentions our matriarchs, it mentions how they were all beautiful women. While of course the Torah is speaking of the spiritual beauty of these women, it is also talking about their physical beauty. Sarah was even abducted by the kings Avimelech and Pharaoh for her great beauty. The Torah also describes how Abraham was completely unaware of Sarah’s beauty due to her modesty and the modesty of their relationship. As I read this I thought to myself, “It’s possible to be so beautiful and not need to expose it?”

I looked around the room and yes, each was truly attractive

I remember once being in a class of over 70 Jewish women. The teacher was lecturing and all of sudden she stopped and commented, “Wow, look at you! Bat Yisrael, daughters of Israel, are truly beautiful.” I’ll never forget that comment as I looked around the room and yes, each was truly attractive in her own way.

In the story of Purim the main character is Esther, another Jewish beauty. Esther’s name is similar to the Hebrew word, hester, meaning “hidden.” Esther was chosen as queen for her physical beauty and also because she remained mysterious and covered up. The Sages describe how even when living in the Royal Palace, Esther took great care to only eat kosher food, honor the Sabbath, and dress modesty; but she did this all while never revealing her true identity. Esther was able to be the savior of the Jewish people by keeping what was important hidden. In the end, Esther did reveal herself, but it was at the right time and under the right circumstances.

When I started to think about my son and his costume I had a number of ideas, but the one that my husband and I chose was to dress him up as Abraham, our patriarch). Again, I’m using his name, (Avraham) and again I hope that the costume captures his essence. I plan to make a brown tunic this time in the shape of a tent and put welcome signs, “Bienvenido, Bienvenue, Welcome, Baruchim haba’im” all over it. Abraham and Sarah’s tent was always open to guests; they were famous for receiving people and making them feel at home. My little Avraham Nissim already gets excited as he greets the guests that grace our home. He shows them his toys and books and brings everything to them.

As I look at my son and prepare the material, I recognize the miracles in my life, both revealed and hidden, and pray to myself, “Let this Purim costume capture his essence and let this be his beauty.”

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
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Anonymous Monsey March 23, 2015

Thank you! I loved this article and its message of tzniut. Very relatable. Reply

Judy Johnston Bakersfield, CA November 16, 2009

Behind the Mask Thank You--what a beautiful piece of writing--Just like the layers of the masks being peeled away --many more meanings to the Book of Esther are reveled in your article. I am speaking to at-risk students in the 3rd through 5th grades and they truly have hidden situations in their lives many of the teachers know nothing about. But of course G_D knows........very meaningful and relevant for our world today here in Bakersfield, CA. Reply

Leah Bishop Fredericton, Canada November 8, 2009

Behind the Mask Thank you for sharing your story of Behind the Mask. I will be sharing it with some teenagers today in Sunday School (we are Baptist). I relish the insight you have shown on G-D hiding himself within these scriptures, and has opened my eyes to a new angle on Esther. Reply

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