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Dress Up

Dressing up in costume is one of the most popular and beloved customs of Purim. Months before the holiday, the children are already dreaming up their disguise for the year, and begging their parents to buy or sew the masterpiece of their imagination.

Where does the custom of dressing up on Purim come from? A common misconception is that it is tied in with Purim’s general theme of jollity and merry-making. However, there is more to it than that. Dressing up on Purim is a way of symbolizing the premise of the Purim miracle – transformation.

As is known, Haman cooked up a plan to destroy the Jews of Persia, with the full support of King Achashverosh. The date he chose for the massacre was the 13th of Adar. After a series of events, the decree was overturned. The Jews were granted permission by the king to defend themselves against their enemies, and what was intended to be a rout against the Jews was reversed – they ended up wiping out their enemies.

This great transformation is represented by dressing up in costume. The disguise says, “I am not the same person as I am all year. Today I am different.”

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Purim itself wears a disguise of sorts. Many believe that it is a “lightweight” holiday, meant for dressing up and exchanging food packages and having boisterous fun. But in truth this is a serious holiday – in some aspects, even more than Yom Kippur. In Hebrew, the word Yom haKippurim can also mean “the day that is like Purim.” In other words, Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the calendar, is only like Purim – Purim is holier still.

What is so serious about Purim? In order to understand this better, we need to explore the events that led to the great miracle. The decree of annihilation threatened only those who were known as Jews. This title, which has come to refer to all descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was born during that period. Until then we were known as Israelites. The title Jew – from the name Judah, which means praise or acknowledgment – was forged during those days.

And this is the wonderful heritage that our ancestors have handed down to us. Every one of them, without exception, merited to receive the title of “Jew.” All of them proudly professed their faith in the One true G-d, even at the risk of their own lives. The power of this self-sacrifice led to the miracle of Purim, and also grants this holiday its exalted spiritual tone, greater than any other, even Yom Kippur. 

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From where did our ancestors get the strength to remain loyal to Judaism even at the cost of their lives? From their leader, Mordechai the Jew. The book of Zohar explains that in every generation there is a leader, a tzadik, who fulfills the role of Moses in that generation, and instills the people with faith and courage. Mordechai was the Moses of that generation. From him, the entire nation drew strength and were able to rise to the challenge under the rule of Achashverosh.

In our generation, too, we have a Mordechai who instills us with faith and leads us with his powerful spiritual vision, strength and courage. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, has told us through his power of prophecy that we are the last generation of exile and the first of Redemption. It will be the greatest transformation of all time, when the darkness of exile will be pierced through with the light of Redemption.

 

 


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