Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ki Tisa - Masks after Purim

Parshat Ki Tisa is usually read around Purim. This year, it follows directly after the holiday of Purim.  And how appropriate, because both Purim and this week's Parsha involve masks.
On the holiday of Purim, young and old wear costumes and very often masks of all sorts as part of their celebrations. Masks of evil and masks of good. Masks that hide the true person and masks that represent someone's hopes and dreams. Jews masquerade as anything and everything, and turn regular folks into Esther and Mordechai, Achashverosh and Haman, nurses and policemen, strawberries and bananas, presidents and prisoners, and all sorts of characters. They let their imaginations run wild as they party to celebrate the salvation of the Jewish people, after a threat of annihilation by the wicked Haman.
In this week's parsha there were two major masquerades. The first occurred when the Jewish people turned a mound of gold into a molten calf (egel masecha - masked cow), and pretended it was a god. "This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt." (Shemot 32:8) 
Then they celebrated and reveled around the calf, drinking and partying for all the wrong reasons.
Rav Avraham Trugman in his fascinating sefer, Orchard of Delights, noted that both Purim and Ki Tisa talk about using gold for the wrong reasons - the Jews in Shushan attended Achashverosh's wild party, danced the night away, and drank from the captured golden vessels of the Holy Temple. The Jews of the desert created the golden calf, and made their own wild party (engaging in the three cardinal sins of idolatry, licentiousness and murder).
After the Jews of Shushan attended Achashverosh's party and watched silently as the holy vessels were dishonored, Hashem sent Haman, who was bent on destroying the Jewish people.
After the episode of the golden calf, Hashem told Moshe that He had decided that He would destroy this stiff-necked nation and begin again with a nation descended from Moshe alone.
In both instances only prayer and repentance saved the Jewish people.
In the end of the parsha, when Moshe descended from Har Sinai with the newly created Tablets of Testimony, the "skin of his face had become radiant" (Shemot 34:29).
He would teach the Jewish people what Hashem told him, and then the parsha continues, "Moshe finished speaking with them and placed a mask on his face." (ibid. 34:33)
When Moshe spoke to Hashem, he removed the mask and showed his true self. When he taught the people Torah he would not wear a mask, but then when he was done, he put on the mask, according to Be'er Moshe (Artscroll Chumash), "to spare the people the embarrassment of seeing how they had so deprived themselves of closeness to G-d that they could not even look at his prophet."
In our lives we sometimes feel it is necessary to "wear a mask". Sometimes we wear a mask of courage, when something, chas v'shalom, bad happens and we don't want others to see how frightened or sad we are. 
There are no end to the types of masks we may wear. But ultimately we become like the mask. The Jewish people became debased through the "masked cow." Moshe became even more humble through his masveh (mask).
Throughout the years in the future, your children will want to dress up as all kinds of things on Purim. Guide them toward positive images. You might think it's silly not to allow your child to "express himself". So what if he wants to be a punk rocker, a bad guy, a negative-whatever. There is something wrong with it. A person is influenced by his Purim costume, by his mask.
I want to leave you with a mask story that I heard from Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. There was once a British Lord who fell in love with a beautiful young lady. He was the most evil, the most horrible looking and the most wicked man in England, but he was very wealthy. He had a mask made for himself that portrayed him as handsome and good.
To fool the lass even more, whenever he was with her, he'd give charity to the poor and do all sorts of good deeds. The young lady fell for the ruse, and married the evil masked lord.
One day years later, the lord's enemy found out about the trick, and came to the palace to expose the terrible lord for what he was. He entered the palace, and ripped the mask off the lord's face to reveal what was underneath.
And what was it?
It was the same handsome and good face as the mask. He had worn the mask for so long and acted with kindness (to impress his young wife) for so long, that he actually became what the mask said he was.
We are (or we become) our masks.
This dvar Torah is in honor of Noam Ariel Dobuler's birthday.

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