Our masks are all of the creative ways we hide ourselves. It’s easier and more comfortable not to show up in life. Ripping off our masks can be terrifying, until we do. We then discover it’s behind our masks where life really happens.
There is an entire holiday dedicated to the theme of masks. And you may know that that holiday is the holiday of Purim. And that’s the reason why it is customary for people to dress up and, in particular, to put on masks.
What association does Purim have with dressing up and putting on masks? So this is what I’d like to explain to you because masks represent something very significant in our lives and we need to be aware of that, we need to recognize them and ultimately we really need to learn how to strip ourselves of them.
The entire story of Purim, which you may be familiar with, is really a political plot. It’s a king who is an anti‑Semite and he has an advisor, Haman, who is an even more fierce anti‑Semite. They plot to kill the Jewish people and miraculously ‑‑ I should not say miraculously but through a series of events and very strong and compelling coincidences things are maneuvered so that the decree is annulled and, in fact, Haman is the one who ends up getting killed.
Now, when you read the story, you can read the story as a political plot. And what’s fascinating is that it is the only book of all of our 24 books of Tanakh, of the written law, it’s the only one of the 24 where G‑d is not mentioned. Which is shocking. How do you have one of the 24 books of the written law and it does not mention G‑d’s name even once?
But here is the reason why. It’s for the very reason that the entire story occurs in a way that one can read it as a political plot without seeing the hand of G‑d overtly in the entire story. And that is that it’s telling us that ultimately G‑d envelopes himself in the natural functioning of the universe. And so while there were times and periods in our history where we saw the overt explicit hand of G‑d rising up and there was no question that G‑d was present, such as the splitting of the sea, the ten plagues, even the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the falling of manna from heaven and many many other examples. But in this story, there is none of that. Because G‑d is entirely hiding. In fact, G‑d is hiding so much that we don’t even see G‑d’s name in this story, in the very book that is part of the Torah.
However, if someone has a discerning eye, which is exactly the type of eye that we all need to develop, and we look very closely at these compelling details, we know that clearly there is a conductor behind all of these events. The coincidences are far too compelling for us to say that they just happened.
A modern day example of this would be the Six‑Day War. Every single newspaper in the world was writing the demise of the State of Israel. Now, if you read the details of what occurred during the very first hours of the Six‑Day War when Israel began to attack Egypt and then Syria, because they knew it was a matter of time before they would be attacked and then it would be too late, but if you follow the details, the details are unbelievably compelling that there was so many things that Israel actually did not know that were happening at that moment in their favor when they began the attack to make their attack so unbelievably successful. And it’s very easy for us to look at the war and say, Wow, what unbelievable coincidences. But that was G‑d behaving the exact same way he was behaving in the story of Purim. He was behaving through ‑‑ he was showing up through the coincidental natural order of things. And the discerning eye says, G‑d is there.
And that’s because G‑d also does have a mask but G‑d wants us to rip‑off that mask and to see through the mask, to make that mask transparency or no longer masks G‑d. And in fact, this is the reason why the story of Purim is a story of maturity. It’s where the Jewish people are finding G‑d in what ordinarily masked him. To see G‑d and recognize G‑d when there is an overt miracle doesn’t require much maturity or self development. That’s quite obvious. It’s in your face, you don’t have a choice. Even Pharaoh had to admit that G‑d was behind it. However, the moment you are seeing your ordinary life and everything happening in it, and you can see through what’s happening in your life to see the hand of G‑d, that is when you have matured and you have really found G‑d in your life.
There’s a cute story that I just recently shared about a boy who wants a bike and he needs $100 and his parents don’t have the money. And he sends a letter to G‑d and he writes a letter, Dear G‑d, it’s Sam, and I would really love a bike like all of my friends have. I need $100. Can you please send me $100? And he puts it in an envelope and he writes the return address and he addresses it the Lord and he puts it in the mail. When it comes to the post office, they see a envelope addressed to the Lord but with no address and, you know, this is cute. And they see it’s a kid’s handwriting so the guys in the back of the post office say, Let’s open it up and see what is in here. And they open it up and see a request for a bike. And they say, Oh, my gosh, this is so sweet, and they say how about if we all chip in some money. And so there were ten guys there and everyone said they would give 5 bucks, so they put together $50, they put it in an envelope and they send it back to him with a return address saying the Lord. The kid gets the envelope, the mail, and he’s like, wow, this is great. G‑d was so responsive. And he opens up the envelope and he sees that there are $50. And so he writes G‑d another letter. And he says, G‑d, thank you so much for responding to my request. I’m humbled and I really appreciate it. But, please, I’m still short $50. Next time you send me money, don’t send it through the post office because they took the other half.
Now, this story is a really cute story, of course, but, you know, we think that, of course, how did the kid get $50, the $50 that he does have? He got it because the post office guys are nice. Actually, this kid actually knows where he got the money from. He really did get it from G‑d. G‑d sent it by the means of the post office people’s kind hearts. But G‑d is the one who sent it to him. He has clarity because he’s a young innocent child who has not yet been corrupted by the facade, the mask of the universe. And so he knows that G‑d arranged this.
That’s very powerful. And so just as G‑d has a mask but he wants us to see through it and turn the mask into something transparent, G‑d tells us that the most dangerous thing that we can do is to create masks for ourselves. And you know something, we do it so often, we don’t even realize how often we do it. We hide behind masks because we think that if we hide, we create a false image of who we are, people will be more accepting of us, people will love us more and it all comes from one place, that we are not accepting ourselves. When we do this, when we create masks where we hide, we are creating the living dead. Because we don’t give our true selves the opportunity to live because we’re too busy hiding.
There’s a saying in Yiddish, A naar nart zich alayn, a fool only fools himself. You know who gets hurt the most when we put on the mask at the end of the day? We do. Because other people ultimately see through who ‑‑ and they can see through us to see who we really are. But we begin to believe in the mask that we put on. And that’s a very dangerous place to go because then we can never truly experience life and truly experience ourselves in the deep way that we should and the deep way that brings beauty to life.
So an unmasked life is authentic living, it’s someone who is authentic. They are never running from reality. They are always living in touch with reality. The ultimate reality, as Judaism teaches us and requires a lot of faith, is that G‑d is really enveloped in everything. There is nothing more powerful than living a life where we are in touch with reality. Because we know when we’re not in touch with reality, we call that delusional. And when you’re delusional, you cannot be effective because you’re not dealing with what is, you’re dealing with what you think there is. So any truly powerful person is in touch with reality and lives authentically. That is the tremendous lesson that G‑d teaches us. Rip off my mask, G‑d says, and discover me and rip off your masks. It’s terrifying to do. But when you do it, you discover your true self and a powerful powerful person.