by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
Purim is the happiest day in the Jewish calendar. One of the traditions of Purim is dressing up in fancy dress and wearing masks. What is the reason for this custom and how does it connect to the celebration of the day?
Our sages tell us that 'Happiness breaks boundaries'. When people are truly happy they loosen up and do things that are beyond the norm. But there are two types of happiness. The first is egocentric and hedonistic, seeking pleasure and a good feeling. This is the festivity that we often witness in pubs or wild parties where there is little purpose or focus. Here the boundaries that are broken are those of self discipline and self respect. This is when people curse, insult and often become violent. It is not true happiness.
The second form of happiness is one with purpose and meaning. The goal of this joy is not external pleasure but rather the celebration of meaningful milestones, spiritual growth or major accomplishments. This happiness is a true and lasting one.
The boundaries that are broken with real joy are the barriers and fences that separate us from each other. The happiness allows us to develop a different perspective on ourselves and other people. We stop judging others by their external behavior and things they say and do, and we begin to appreciate their inner soul. We begin to understand that the annoying actions, feelings and personality traits that separate us from others are only external masks that conceal the true human being. Beneath the mask there is a pristine soul that makes him/her a special human being. The energy of the happiness allows us to break through the mask and see what is beneath.
On Purim we dress up, reminding ourselves and others that our outward appearance and behavior is always a mask. We realize that all those things that separate us from each other have nothing to do with our real identity. The celebration of Purim gives us the ability to look behind the mask and discover the real person.