People are definitely the most complicated, maddening, uplifting, frustrating, exhilarating, and interesting of all of the Almighty’s creations.
And it is in our relationships with other human beings – all of them – the difficult, the messy, the wonderful – that we learn the most about ourselves. That is where our biggest growth opportunity is, like it or not.
Sometimes we favor the “or not,” so we turn away from others. We hide in our corners, alone and safe. We’re so afraid – of making ourselves vulnerable, of potential hurt, of rejection, of pain.
One of our great rabbis, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, gave his students an important message on his deathbed. As they leaned in for his final teachings he said, “I give you a blessing that your fear of God should be as great as your fear of man.” Fantastic! One of my favorite blessings of all time. Because it speaks so acutely to the human condition…
How much time and energy do we waste worrying about what people think of us? (People who probably aren’t thinking of us at all!) How many important thoughts and opinions – perhaps about the Jewish people and Israel – do we keep to ourselves for fear of ridicule? How many friendships just never get started because we’re afraid to ask? (Although once someone with three kids and two nannies did tell me she was too busy to have lunch me…) How many opportunities do we miss?
It’s very hard to break out of this fear/approval-seeking mind-set (without lots of therapy). Purim gives us that chance. And in the most unexpected way.
Paradoxically it is through wearing a costume that we become the most free to be ourselves (a little bit of drinking doesn’t hurt either!). Through breaking out of our everyday uniform, we also break free from all our defenses, our guards and obstacles.
We can express the true feelings and thoughts of our hearts (I don’t mean the hurtful and critical ones: there is never a time for that!).
We can tell our friends and family how much we care about them without worrying about saying too much. Disguised as Mordechai or Ahashverosh or the Pope (my husband’s favorite costume), we can reveal our innermost hopes and desires without fear of condemnation or mockery. We can talk about God and not be concerned that the topic isn’t fit for polite society.
We need our daily uniforms. We need to conform to certain societal and employment regulations. But they can serve as prisons for our true selves, jailors for our souls.
Once a year I can be Queen Esther (or a punk rocker in an alternative universe) and taste that life of unswerving devotion to the Almighty. I can imagine the commitment and the sacrifice. And in my little world, I can be more of who I am and who I aspire to be.
Obviously we can’t wear Purim costumes every day, but we can take the lesson with us, even when the holiday ends and the last hamentashen are eaten.
Our fears and anxieties are all internal. There’s a rich world out there, a world of opportunities and relationships and we need to allow ourselves to be open to them. We need to welcome vulnerability. We need to embrace new possibilities. We need to try those peanut butter chocolate hamentashen….