“Liberty of thought is the life of the soul.”
(Voltaire 1694-1778, Essay on Epic Poetry)
Do you want to figure out some important things in your life? Put on a costume.
Would you like to see a situation clearly? Disguise yourself.
Do you have a need to understand something that has been eluding you? Become a clown, king or Mickey Mouse for a day.
Revered scholars, rabbis and community leaders dress up as Sumo wrestlers, Shrek, well known celebrities, and famous politicians. Women who command positions of great respect and achievement dress up as cartoon figures, princesses, Raggedy Ann and more. Children run the gamut. Boys become everything from historical characters to soldiers, and girls don the clothing of Dora the Explorer and Cinderella.
This custom is especially curious because Purim is a time when we celebrate clarity and awareness; the ability to acknowledge and embrace a reality that escaped us until that time.
So why dress up?
A story might best illustrate the idea:
A long time ago, there lived a powerful man. He was a leader in his country, well known for his courage and tenacity – a builder of businesses and institutions. He was respected and feared in the circles he frequented. The powerful man never travelled alone and never travelled unadorned. He was followed by an entourage of advisors, partners and associates. He was always well dressed – wearing the finest clothing made by the most respected tailors. He was extremely busy, and his team rigorously scheduled each hour of every workday. The exception: Wednesdays from 9am-1pm. Those hours remained blacked-out on his calendar. He never allowed himself to be disturbed during that time and wouldn’t accept any calls – from anyone.
One day something strange happened. The powerful man was visiting with hospital officials to discuss a new medical effort he would sponsor. A little boy who was in the children’s care ward was having trouble sleeping and wandered to the large hall where the meeting was taking place. Hearing a voice he recognized, the child moved further into the room until he stood alongside the men in the meeting. After several minutes passed, he took another few steps forward to face the man whose voice he recognized. As he faced the powerful man, he was confused at his dress and demeanor. The little boy was certain he knew the voice but had never seen someone who looked as the powerful man did. A few more minutes went by and then it became clear. When the man smiled, the little boy had no doubt that he was the magician who had visited him the day before.
The little boy ran towards the powerful man. Startled, the powerful man took a step back and then looked down and quickly opened his arms to accept the child.
Every Wednesday the powerful man divorced himself from himself, shed all of his trappings and engaged life unadorned. He removed himself from all that he was, so that he could have a look at, and better understand what he was. Wednesday’s from 9am-1pm weren’t simply downtime or a day off, being in a costume allowed him to suspend the reality that was his life – shed it all, so that he could see and be seen through a lens that was the antithesis of his day to day.
In our own lives we should sometimes liberate ourselves from reality in order to properly engage reality.
When you’re in a Shrek costume you’re no longer the powerful corporate CEO. When your face is covered with clown makeup you’re divorced from your ownership of scores of buildings, partnership in a successful law practice, or position as a revered scholar. When you’re dressed up as a well-known movie star or biblical character you’re disengaged from your responsibilities as a mother and grandmother.
When one unburdens himself/herself of his trappings, the world becomes simpler, truer, more honest and clear. You can love more simply, laugh more spontaneously, engage people and situations with the freedom of a new paradigm or no paradigm. When you take a day off or go on vacation, you spend your vacation in your ongoing identity. When you put on a costume you’re truly vacating, so that when you re-engage yourself you do so with greater joy and understanding.
So this Purim put on a costume and let everyone see you in it. Free yourself from yourself. Doing so will enable you to understand and enjoy life as you never have before.