June 11, 2024
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Unmasking the Message: Reflections on Purim 5780 and 5781

I was blessed to recently receive my booster shot of the vaccine against COVID-19. This led me to think back on this past unusual and extraordinary year.

When the lockdowns significantly intensified this past year, it was shortly after the festival of Purim. One of the interesting aspects of the holiday is that many have the practice to wear a costume of some kind, or at the very least, a mask. The masks associated with Purim are often joyful, whimsical and festive to match the mood of the day. Up until this past year, that is one of the main connotations I personally had with a mask.

Now, surgically appropriate masks, which certainly are not associated with celebration, have become a part of daily life. I realized my perceptions had been altered when I went shopping last summer. At a particular supermarket there is a coffee shop, and outside of it a mural is painted depicting professional workers, who, undoubtedly after following their morning ritual of purchasing a cup of coffee, are headed off to their respective occupations. As I looked at that mural, which I had observed countless times before without ever giving it a second thought, I found myself thinking, “Now that picture is wrong. Those people are not wearing masks!”

Yes, now I am not viewing the every day as I used to. Just as the theme of the Book of Esther is largely summed up in the Hebrew words from Chapter 9, verse 1: “v’nahafoch hu… (and it was overturned…),” that is a veritable theme for this ongoing saga. How much has been overturned or reversed!

There are hundreds of thousands who sadly have lost their lives or gotten seriously ill due to this pandemic. This, in and of itself, is deeply tragic.

It is also mind-boggling how so many people are now using technology to “show up” for work, and how we are navigating where we can or can’t congregate for one purpose or another, and juggling what once were the simple pleasant social interactions that truly made such a huge difference in so many ways.

In many ways, the current historical moment can be summed up and symbolized with the face mask.

I do not enjoy wearing the mask, and look forward to the day when we will not have to wear them any longer. But one of the ideas I try to have in mind is that this is not about my personal comfort. Rather, I need to be concerned with health and safety, not only my own, but that of my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and acquaintances. I do not wish to endanger their lives as much as I do not want mine put at risk.

So while wearing the mask is not something I find pleasurable, it shows that I am thinking about the next person and not just my own convenience. When we put on that mask, or observe social distancing, or use Zoom rather than go to work physically, we are showing concern for one another.

The “overturned” nature of our COVID-19 circumstances gives us multiple opportunities each day to demonstrate our interest in keeping all those we encounter safe and healthy.

This gives me something to smile about, even if that smile is concealed behind a mask.


Rabbi David Blum provides pastoral care throughout New Jersey as part of the Rabbi Chaim Yosef Furst Chaplaincy Program, which is conducted via Congregation Ohav Emeth of Highland Park, and the Chaplaincy Program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest. He resides with his family in Highland Park and may be contacted at [email protected].

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