This week in our Torah portion we read the description of the garments worn by the High Priest in the Temple and we also celebrate the festival of Purim, a time where we dress up in fancy dress and allow ourselves the freedom to be whoever we want to be. The priest had prescribed ritual garments which he wore to denote his position in the community and to remind him constantly of his obligations to his people. Clothing in the Torah was more than an item to cover the body, it had symbolism and meaning and also imparted ethical and moral teachings to the people who wore it and those who saw it. Today, clothing continues to be more than a mere covering of the body. It can be a reflection of our identity, our views, it can be constraining and freeing. During the festival of Purim we focus on clothing, often seeing the chance to dress up as some frivolous fun. But perhaps it is more than that. Just as during Purim we wear masks, during our lives, we too wear masks, we conform to societal pressures, we sometimes have to hide who we really are. At Purim we are presented with the opportunity to release ourselves from those constraints, all the rules are turned on their head as we don a mask which rather than concealing who we are, can allow us to reveal who we really are. We can dress in whatever we choose, we can turn conventions and norms upside down and we can find the way to embrace all of who we are.
There is an interesting commentary in the Talmud which compares Purim with Yom Kippur. It seems that there could not be two more different festivals in our calendar. Yom Kippur with its solemnity, its focus on repentance and rejuvenation, meeting God and being stripped bare, naked and alone with our mistakes and failings. And Purim, the festival of fancy dress, mockery and fun, where nothing is sacred and everything is grist for the humour mill. So how are these two festivals alike? Yom Kippur is a day ke’Purim, like Purim, because on both festivals we have the chance to be whoever we want to be and we can realize the potential within us. We do this on Yom Kippur through a process of reflection and introspection, thinking about what is really important and then making the changes in our lives to make that vision a reality. On Purim, we dress up and we can become whoever we want to be. The constraints of our daily lives are cast aside and we have the freedom to embrace whatever we want to become. Both festivals are times when anything is possible, when we can allow ourselves to dream and then make those dreams real.
This Shabbat we also read the passages where the Torah exhorts us to remember Amalek. But what are we to remember about him? The midrash explains that Amalek was evil because he prayed on the weak and vulnerable, he exploited those least able to stand for themselves and so gained power which he used to further abuse those who needed him the most. This passage is always read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman, the protagonist of the Purim story, is a descendant of Amalek. In the megillah it is a brave, courageous woman, Queen Esther, who stands in the face of Haman’s power and fights for her people. This week as we read these passages I pray that we will stand up for the vulnerable, speak out against injustice and work to make changes in the world to make the lives of others better.