Rabbi Jonny Ross of Aish Manchester answers some questions about the colourful festival of Purim (24th March).
What is the worst thing that someone can dress up as on Purim? I know exactly what it is, because I have dressed up as it.
I was an excited 11-year-old and my friends and I had decided that this year we were going to be punks! We weren’t going to shave our heads, get a body piercing or start a riot, but we were going to spray paint our hair, get some stick-on tattoos and shout. That was until my father found out and forbade me to do any of those things. Instead my mother procured a slightly different costume for me. One that didn’t involve nose rings or noise, leather or loudness, rock or roll. I was to wear something infinitely more sensible, functional and utilitarian.
And so at the parade while my entire grade were strutting around with shaving foam and fake Mohawks, causing anarchy and mayhem, I turned up and all eyes instantly turned to me for all the wrong reasons. For, in this atmosphere of rebelliousness and revolution, I walked straight into school dressed as none other than Arthur Scargill – a 50-year-old British politician and trade unionist who was president of the National Union of Miners from 1982!
Looking back, I honestly cannot actually bring myself to remember the comments of most of my friends after that traumatic event. But the question that still remains, and one that was burning in my brain for years afterwards is, why do we have to dress up on Purim?
We can also ask another question: the name Purim actually means ‘lots’. What kind of name is that for a festival? What is the connection between a lottery and costumes? And why is this festival, which celebrates the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from the threat of total annihilation, named for a seemingly minor detail like casting lots?
An answer lies in the very ordinariness of the miracle of Purim. At this great time, there was no splitting seas, no smoking mountains, no celestial visions. There was only the hand of the Creator micromanaging events from on high, down to the smallest detail in a seemingly natural manner.
G-d could quite easily have sent down lightning bolts from the heavens to strike down Haman, but instead He chose to manipulate ordinary events to affect their miraculous deliverance.
Lots represent randomness and unpredictability. They are a denial of Divine providence in the smallest details of life. Haman’s denial of G-d can be seen in his reliance on lots. He felt that nothing is preordained and nothing can stand in his way. Life is haphazard and arbitrary. But by their miraculous deliverance, the Jewish people see the opposite. That G-d is present in the very smallest of details, even though sometimes He seems to us to be hidden. And it is for this reason that many of the traditions of Purim symbolize concealment – the masks, the costumes, the inside of the hamantaschen. No matter how bleak things may appear on the outside, we can rest assured that underneath the hand of G-d is guiding everything with divine wisdom and love