Costumes – The Inside Story

From: Stephanie in Detroit

Dear Rabbi,

What is the significance of wearing costumes on Purim?

Dear Stephanie,

A simple Jew was once traveling on a journey. He arrived at a certain town near nightfall, and desperately sought lodgings at the town inn. To his dismay, he learned that there was no room in the inn since a group of soldiers were staying there. He pleaded with the innkeeper until he let him stay in the room of the General who was away for the night, on condition that he leave at the crack of dawn. Awakened by the innkeeper while still dark outside, the rushed, weary-eyed traveler mistakenly put on one of the General’s uniforms and left. Seeing his military-clad reflection in one of the store windows, the simple Jew exclaimed, “That foolish innkeeper woke up the General instead of me!”

All too often we mistakenly define ourselves by how we appear and by what we do. We similarly judge others in the same way, as do others judge us. We are all deceived then, by external appearances which often “mis-reflect” the real person within the external attire.

This is a theme in the Purim story. The Jews wrongly partook of the gluttonous, showy feast of King Achashverosh, which the King had intended to culminate in the improper “unveiling” of his Queen, Vashti (Ester 1:1-13). While the Jews’ appearance at the banquet was wrong, it was more an external reflection of their being “under the influence” of their surroundings, than of a true, inner desire to do wrong. Ultimately, they revealed the real identity which was hiding behind the façade by fasting and praying fervently in repentance to G‑d (Ester 4:1-3).

Purim, then, is a time for reflecting on the idea that people are not always as they appear on the outside. The custom of wearing costumes, especially those of mundane or even evil people or non-kosher animals on Purim makes us ask, “Who is the Jew behind that masquerade of impurity?”  And when the person shirks his mask, we shout with surprise, “Oh, it’s you. I should have recognized you!”  This teaches us that no matter how far a Jew appears to be from G‑d and the Torah, it’s merely a spiritually intoxicated masquerade. Behind it all, deep within, is a holy, familiar Jew. A brother or sister to love, appreciate and respect for who they are on the inside.

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