Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Who Is That Masked Man?

Jews around the world will soon celebrate Purim. One celebratory tradition is to wear masks and costumes. There are a number of reasons for dressing in disguises on Purim, but on a simple level it is to remember how G-d saved the Jews while staying "anonymous." G-d worked behind the scene but His works remained masked or disguised as naturally occurring events. Hence wearing masks is a major theme of Purim.

I want to delve a bit deeper and suggest that wearing a mask on Purim is like a wink to Hashem as we say to Him, "We are willing to play your Own game as we realize life is nothing as it seems." What do I mean by that? Many Jews, and non-Jews like me, proclaim on a daily basis the Oneness of Hashem. His Oneness is the core of our faith. The more we understand the Oneness of Hashem, the more we as individuals, or perhaps I should say the illusion of our individual self melts away. Hashem is the only reality. Our individuality and our separateness is an illusion. We live, move, and have "our" total existence in Hashem.

You've most likely heard the story of the four sages who were allowed to enter Paradise. Of the four, only one, Rabbi Akiva, processed and reacted correctly to the Truth he was shown and therefore he left in peace. Rabbi Nachman's teaching on this story helps us understand the "correct" vs "incorrect" way to process and try to understand G-d's Oneness while living a life of "separateness." Rabbi Nachman teaches that the concealment of G-d's Oneness and Allness was necessary so that man could exercise free will and receive G-d's Lovingkindness. Rabbi Akiva accepted the fact that Hashem designed a system, i.e. a world of "separateness," in which His Unity could be fully appreciated. He was able to accept and appreciate the value of living in a world of illusion and separateness because ultimately and ironically this is the place in which G-d's Oneness can be discovered the most. Rabbi Akiva went behind the "curtain of separateness" so to speak, but had the wisdom not to question why Hashem had set up this illusion. Instead he nodded to His Master. A nod that said, "As any man, I will never fully understand You, but I accept Your Ways, and I will play by Your rules."

Esther and Mordechai had this same kind of faith. Even though they must have felt completely isolated and separated not just from their fellow Jews, but even from Hashem at times (read Psalm 22 as the sages teach that Esther prayed this to Hashem) they ultimately displayed the kind of faith that attested to the fact that their feelings of separateness were but a mere illusion. They appeared to stand alone as "individuals" but the reality is and was that they did not exist outside of Hashem's Oneness.

Donning a mask on Purim is a way of declaring the same kind of faith that Esther and Mordechai had and the same kind of understanding that Rabbi Akiva had. Deep down our spirits know that Hashem is the only reality. I, like many others, who daily proclaim the Shema, close my eyes when saying, "The L-rd He is One," because I realize His Oneness cannot be perceived by my senses; I cannot "see" His Oneness with my physical eyes. But my spirit can "see" His Oneness. Our spirit is aware of being perpetually attached to His Oneness. Our highest level of spirituality knows no separateness. But our physical eyes and our mind tells us different. We see our individual self. We see other people around us. We feel things that no one else feels. We experience things that no one else experiences. But our spirit knows that this is a mere illusion designed by Hashem in order that we might ultimately find ourselves in His Oneness.

I loved the analogy that Rabbi Chaim Richman recently used in describing how Hashem garbs Himself in nature so that we can "see" Him. Just as the character Griffin in the H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man had to wrap himself in gauze, an overcoat and hat to be seen, so too does Hashem wrap Himself in nature and events to be "seen." Stay with me here. The deeper we delve into understanding G-d's Oneness, the more the illusion of our individuality falls away. We as individuals start to disappear, so to speak. We become more and more invisible. Yet on Purim we don garb, like the character Griffen did, so that we as individuals can be seen and used by Hashem.

So even though on Purim it is a physical hand that reaches up to put a mask on a physical face, deep down it is our spirit giving a wink and a nod to our Master as we say, "We are willing to play your game. We are willing to appear as individuals and do what each of us needs to do. Just as Esther and Mordechiai played their roles, we are willing to play our roles. But we know it is just a show. We know we really only exist in Your Oneness." If we truly believe this, then we can have faith like Esther and Mordechai had.

It is a great irony and mystery that Hashem is hidden in us. His Oneness is hidden in the illusion of our individuality. Our comfort comes in knowing that He "separated" us from Himself for a reason and that if we let Him, He will use us as "individuals" solely for His purposes and that ultimately we will find our true selves in Him and Him alone.

1 comment:

  1. In Hebrew, the word "world" is Olam - which derives from the root "to conceal". Similarly, the word "nature" in Hebrew is Teva - which derives from "to submerge". That's just the way it is in this pre-Messianic world; God enjoys playing Hide & Seek; He hides and we have to do the seeking.

    Thankfully, deeper into the Era of Redemption, the world will be raised to a much higher notch of spirituality, so much so that we will have better perception of our One God, and how we are all His constituents. This perception will be a physical perception, as it says (somewhere), "From [all] my flesh I will see God".

    Wishing you Kol Toov!