Connected by the Mask We are Wearing

Rabbi Jeffrey M. Arnowitz

It is a mitzvah to be happy during the month of Adar, the month in which Purim falls. This year, we are definitely going to have to try a little harder to fulfill that mitzvah. When we start reading Megilat Esther on Thursday night, February 25, it will mark one Jewish calendar year of living with the coronavirus among us. Last year, the decision to go virtual for our megillah reading was made that day. On that day, we couldn’t possibly have imagined that we would still be adjusting how we gather, our synagogue programming, and pretty much our whole lives, but here we are.

Usually we explain the wearing of masks on Purim in connection with either the way the Jews were “hiding” themselves through assimilation in ancient Persia or the hidden nature of God in the story—in the megillah God is never mentioned as directly acting to protect the Jews. But there is another lesser-known reason for mask wearing on Purim. Giving gifts to the poor, known as matanot l’evyonim is one of the central mitzvot (required activities) of Purim Day, along with reading Megilat Esther, sending baskets of food to one-another (mishloach manot) and eating a festive meal. Minhagei Kol Yaakov, explains that we wear masks so that no one accepting charity on Purim should be recognized and therefore feel ashamed.

As many of you may know, during winter break COVID made its way into our house. Tami and Isaac were sick and isolated in the basement (thank God they have both made a full, fairly easy recovery). When faced with ten days of running the household myself amid the complications of isolating and quarantine, I called Cindy Heller of the Bikur Cholim Committee to ask for help. Thank you to so many of you who helped us with food, shopping, and encouragement.

Though asking for help was one of the smartest things I could do, it was also one of the most difficult. For most of us, asking for help is challenging. There is something that feels shameful about it and we question if we deserve help or if we are as in need as others. This Purim, let’s take a moment to recognize that we are all struggling in one way or another. We may be wearing masks of stability and positivity, but we should remember in these isolating times that those “masks” are connecting us as much as anything. We are all wearing masks.

I hope that if you are struggling with health issues—mental or physical, finances or anything else, you will reach out to our clergy for help. I hope that knowing we are here to help—no masks required, no shame and that we are all in this together creates some extra joy this Adar.

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