The frivolity of the upcoming Purim holiday is one sign of the month of Adar, of which it is said, when Adar comes, joy is increased!
The story of Purim, thought to have occurred in Persia during the 4th century BCE, is found in Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther. We read that Haman, the royal vizier to King Ahasuerus, determined to kill all the Jews in the empire after Mordechai refused to bow down to him. His plans were overheard by Mordecai, who worked with Esther, his adopted daughter, to become the queen by marrying King Ahasuerus. Risking her life by coming out to her husband as a Jew, Esther overturned Haman’s deadly plans. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting, rejoicing, and sending gifts of food to the poor.
The custom of wearing costumes on Purim is an allusion to the nature of the Purim miracle, where the details of the story are considered miracles hidden within natural events, and where secrets were masked by outward appearance. In addition, we are instructed to celebrate to the point where we can’t tell the difference between good Mordechai and evil Haman, where everything is outsized — the costumes are fabulous, and the telling of the story is intentionally filled with bad puns, silly jokes, and ribald hints. Even in traditional communities, people costume to absurdity and opposites; men dress like women, women dress like men, or both choose something else entirely — animals, famous pairs (like peanut butter and jelly), or creatures of perfect imaginings.
Purim encourages us to show the world all of our inner identities, and to explore the many ways we express ourselves. You might be a comfortable cis-gendered man, but on Purim you transform into Mary Gigantus, the most fabulous drag queen on the strip. You might be a gender-varient person who is enthralled to be surrounded by a wonderment of gender expression. You might be a transgender teen, doing your first public expression of your private self. Purim can give that to us.
Purim also reminds us that there is still risk involved in coming out. Esther’s success was not guaranteed. It was possible that her husband might have rejected her for being Jewish. The only thing guaranteed was the failure to save her people if she did not come out as one. Her silence would not save them, only her bravery could do that.
As a sign that the Purim story should be understood by everyone who hears it, it is encouraged to tell the story in as many languages as possible. At our Etz Chaim celebration this year, we will be sharing the story in 10 languages, including Hebrew, Russian, Aramaic, French, Spanish, Italian, Thai, Shona, Urdu, and English! The whole megillah begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m., with graggers and hamentashen for all! Happy Purim, may your joy increase!