Is Purim the Jewish Halloween?
Nobody likes a two-faced phony. We crave authenticity. Realness. We want a person’s words to match their deeds.
One of the fun customs of the holiday of Purim is to wear a costume, a mask. The holiday is mistakenly referred to as “the Jewish Halloween.” While wearing a costume is something that Halloween and Purim have in common, that is where the similarity ends.
Halloween has a dark history based in paganism and idolatry. “The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. On the night of October 31st they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.” (history.com)
The source of the festival of Purim is the book of Esther and the events as described there. Emerging from the text of Esther, Jews celebrate the holiday by giving charity to the poor sending food packages to on another, gathering for a festive meal and of course, reading the Scroll of Esther. (See Esther 9:22 )
The common denominator of all of this is the camaraderie and friendship that underlies how it is celebrated. Giving charity, sending and receiving food parcels, having a large festive meal all foster friendship and unity. It is a holiday all about community and connecting with friends, family and those that we don’t know so well.
So where do the costumes/masks fit in?
The book of Esther is the only one of two books of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) that does not contain the name of God! Amazing!
Why doesn’t God’s name appear?
The story, on the surface, is a series of natural events—there are no obvious, open miracles. Yet, by the end we realize that in fact God was operating behind the scenes in the most natural manner. The miracle was “disguised” as natural, as if to suggest that God can “wear a mask” and remain hidden within natural, everyday events.
The costume reminds us not to look at the surface but to look deeper. If you look hard enough, you will always find God.
In fact, the Hebrew word for world is olam which could also be read as meaning concealment. In other words, the world conceals the existence of God. We have to work hard sometimes to find God in the world we live in. The world is one giant mask that obligates us to peek beneath it.
One step further. The truth is we all wear masks. We all have fears and insecurities. We sometimes mask our true selves in the way we dress, the jokes we make and the way we behave. It protects us yet it can also hurt us.
I want to share with you a profound poem written in 1966 that I read for the first time about 30 years ago. It made a profound impact on me. To me, it captures the essence of this final message of the Purim mask. :
Please Hear What I Am Not Saying
Don't be fooled by me. Don't be fooled by the face I wear for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I'm afraid to take off, and none of them is me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled, for God's sake don't be fooled. I give you the impression that I'm secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water's calm and I'm in command and that I need no one, but don't believe me. My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness. But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed. That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it's followed by acceptance, if it's followed by love. It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect. It's the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself, that I'm really worth something. But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to. I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance, will not be followed by love. I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing and that you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within. So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks, and my life becomes a front. I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that's really nothing, and nothing of what's everything, of what's crying within me. So when I'm going through my routine do not be fooled by what I'm saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying, what I'd like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can't say....
Charles C. Finn September 1966