I have never been good with names or faces. I joke that my wife never forgets a face, and I never remember one. So, while she will meet a woman and recognize her from kindergarten, I will meet a student and not be able to remember why he looks familiar (Well, not that bad, but close).
During the last few months, when everyone walks around wearing masks, it’s even worse for me. Last week, someone came over to me and, in a friendly manner, greeted me and asked me how I was doing? He must have noticed my confusion, because he pulled down his mask for a moment so I could see his face. I cannot say that helped me recognize him, but I had to pretend it did.
On Friday night, in our tribute to our mothers/wives – the Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) – we state: “She does not fear for her house from snow, because her entire house is dressed in wool.” Simply understood, this means that her family does not fear the winter when it snows because she makes sure that they have warm clothing to insulate them.
On a deeper level, it is a reference to her ability to develop the inner essence of every member of her family.
I must admit that I don’t like winter or cold weather. However, when stepping out into the cold stillness of a winter morning after a night of snow, it is a truly majestic and beautiful sight. Everything is covered with a blanket of white, concealing everything beneath it. Everything looks the same.
When we act, dress, and speak in a certain manner in order to fit in with everyone else, we compromise our individuality and uniqueness. But the woman of valor isn’t afraid of her family falling into that pattern. She works hard to develop the inner greatness of her children; she strives to demonstrate to them why they are special and what they can contribute. The truth is that wearing a wool sweater doesn’t actually warm a person. Rather, it insulates the inner body heat that the person has, so that he doesn’t feel the outside cold. The greatest gift we give our children – and ourselves – is to discover and develop our latent inner greatness.
The woman of valor doesn’t fear the external, faceless cold of a lack of identity and inner self-worth, because she provides her family with wool to maintain their inner warmth, personality, and identity.
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky relates that when asked why yeshivah students dress in “black and white” (black pants and white shirts) every day, he replies that it’s because they know what to wear in the morning and don’t have to decide. When the questioner persists that wearing the same clothing as everyone else strips them of their identity, he replies that if one’s identity is the result of the clothing he wears, then he has no idea what having a real sense of identity means.
On Purim, it is customary to wear a costume and a mask. We laugh when we see someone in a good costume, because it’s funny when it looks like someone or something is approaching us, but then the person takes off the mask and we see that it’s someone else.
On a deeper level, Purim reminds us that in our daily lives we wear many masks that hide our true identity. For one day a year, we pull off our masks and reveal our true inner identity. We celebrate who we are and allow our natural love for our fellow Jews to flow between us.
We eat hamantashen, which mostly conceal the delicious filling, mostly obscured by the dough, to remind us that the inner beauty and essence of most people, especially ourselves, is often hidden from view by the daily bustle of life.
There is a mitzvah to drink on Purim more than we are accustomed to, to show us that beyond our inhibitions lies a pure essence that yearns for greatness and to transcend the anxieties, foibles, resentments, and self-consciousness that impedes our progress.
We cannot sustain a Purim life. Soon enough, the day ends, and we return to our regular programming. The wise person, however, doesn’t quickly forget what it was like when he pulled off his mask and connected with his inner greatness. He uses the experience to help him realize that he shouldn’t be afraid of being just another face in the crowd, because he realizes the greatness he has within.