The Magic of Purim | BINA
בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

The Magic of Purim | BINA

The Magic of Purim 

Ayala Deckel, the Head of BINA Secular Yeshiva, discusses the Book of Esther, the lessons we can learn from Esther and Vashti, and the concept of putting on a costume to change our persona. Why is Vashti looked down upon while Esther is praised? What lessons can we learn from Esther’s courage? How do Purim costumes connect with our everyday lives and self-discovery?

Purim has a special kind of magic. All year round we are neatly dressed, organized and are well turned out. Then, suddenly, on Purim, if you go out into the streets, you’ll see adults in pajamas, boys dressed as girls, girls dressed as boys, and students dressed as teachers. Something about it is chaotic, but in a good way. It’s creative, allowing us to break out of our personal comfort zones, even if it’s just for a day, and become something, or someone, else. 

The magic of Purim lies in the costumes and the act of changing clothes. The custom of the holiday says that if I change my clothes, I can be someone else. 

This special custom of changing clothes and mixing identities originates in the Book of Esther and in the writings of our Sages, around the central female figure in the book – Esther. 

Esther appears at the start of the megillah as a very passive character. They take her from place to place, and she is schooled in how to behave, how to speak, and how to dress. All the verbs used are passive – “Esther was taken into the king’s palace ” Esther, 2:8.

Vashti, the late queen, was a brave woman who dared to challenge the king, to refuse him, and to stand her ground against him. Esther, at the start of her journey, is the reverse of Vashti – whatever Vashti refuses, Esther obeys. At the beginning of the story, we are presented with two opposite characters – Vashti, a defiant woman who is seemingly badly behaved, and Esther,  an obedient, compliant ‘well-behaved’ woman. Generation after generation, we are taught that the obedient Esther is the ultimate role model to look up to. As young girls, we are encouraged to dress in costume as good Queen Esther and not bad Queen Vashti. 

But the story changes, and as it changes, Esther’s character develops. Suddenly, when there is a decree on all the Jewish people, Esther must do something other than obey the king – she must resist. Esther has to employ independent thinking and stand up to the king like Vashti did in her time, but this time it has to be different. Esther must succeed in her refusal. 

The most important moment in the megillah is when Esther has to go to King Ahasuerus and make him listen to her and not expel or kill her. After fasting for three days and thoroughly preparing for this fateful meeting, Esther makes her final and most important preparation of them all – she gets dressed.

On the third day, Esther put on royalty” Esther 5:1. Suddenly, Esther is active. On the third day, before she goes to see the king, she “wears royalty.” 

 

The Talmud stops at this verse and asks – how can one wear royalty? Shouldn’t the Megilla say “and Esther wore royal clothes.” The Talmud says that clothes can be worn and asks how does one wear royalty? The answer the Talmud gives is fascinating – Esther is one of seven prophetesses, and when she wears royalty, she is actually wearing the spirit of prophecy. 

Perhaps it can be said that when Esther changes her clothes to royal clothes, she also puts on a new persona. A persona of royalty, that makes her confidently enter the courtyard of the palace. A persona that makes her succeed in convincing King Ahasuerus and saving her people. The persona of a leader. 

This idea of changing clothes/changing persona is familiar to us all and does not only happen on Purim. One day I overheard my son explaining to his friend, “when my mom is dressed in heels, it means she is going to work and will come back late, and if she is wearing sneakers, it means she is staying at home today.” We change clothes depending on our situation and where we are going. We each have a persona that goes with our work clothes, one that is suitable for an event or a party, and another that is suitable for being at home in pajamas. Every piece of clothing and everything we wear brings a specific persona that we ‘wear’ at every hour of the day. 

We also see this same phenomenon in movies. Often in Disney movies, when the hero or heroine overcomes some challenge or finally finds the right path to follow, they change their clothes. Think of Elsa changing her dress at the most important moment in the movie “Frozen”, or Mulan changing her clothes from a man to a woman, from a girl to a soldier. The same goes for Spiderman, who goes from Peter Parker to a superhero, and so many more examples that surely come to mind for each and every one of us. 

And perhaps,  this is precisely the magic of Purim. The holiday where we can all – children and adults – “wear royalty.” The holiday where we can dare, even just for one day, to change our persona and choose a unique costume. Where we dare to put on the character we really want to be. 

 

 

Ayala Deckel, Head of BINA’s Secular Yeshiva 

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