And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities. (Devarim 31:18)
The Talmud asks where Esther can be found in the Torah and the verse above is referred to. “And I will hide my face…” Anochi Haster Aster Panai… has the name Esther in it, meaning hidden. Is that why we wear masks on Purim? Does it have to do with the hidden face of HASHEM? Since Purim is 30 days before Pesach, maybe it’s not too soon to draw an example from Matza. (Sorry ladies).
He urged them very much, so they turned toward him and came to his house; he made a feast for them and he baked matzos and they ate. (Breishis 19:3)
He baked matzos: It was Pesach. (Rashi)
Why was Lot serving matzos to his guests four hundred and one years before the event of the exodus from Egypt? What significance could matzah have before then? We say at the Pesach Seder that Matzah reminds us that we left Egypt in such a hurry that the dough that baked on our backs didn’t have a chance to rise, yet four centuries earlier, before the commandment and the historical circumstances, Lot was compelled to make matzos for some perhaps mysterious reason we shall explore.
Almost 28 years ago, when the world was engulfed in the “Gulf War” and Israel was being fired upon by Iraq with scud missiles, many important safety issues were being debated. Gas masks were widely distributed but their effectiveness, it was found, would be compromised by facial hair. Questions were directed to a certain awesomely great Talmud scholar who was sitting in Bnei Brak.
Reb Chaim Kanievsky, who was seated in the center of the cyclone, was asked, “Do we shave off our beards to fit the masks?” I heard from my teachers that he gave the same seemingly cavalier answer to all that asked, “On Purim you’ll wear your masks!” Matters of life and death push away even Shabbos observance. Having a beard is not nearly as weighty as the holiness of Shabbos.
Obviously the danger was not as significant or as imminent as was commonly perceived. As things turned out, after months of bombing by the allied forces, a four-day ground war started as many as the days before Purim. The announcement was made of the Iraqi concession on the Fast of Esther, the day immediately preceding Purim. That night was Purim and Jews filled the streets to celebrate after the reading of the Megilla, which talks about the amazing salvation of the Jewish people through hidden miracles.
People did not have a chance nor were they focused on buying new costumes or masks for the festive day. By default, the costume of choice that was most on display and that was worn with a sense of joyous relief was none other than the ubiquitous gas mask. Those words of the Tzadik now had the ring of profound truth and deep insight, “On Purim you’ll wear your masks!”
Now imagine for a moment please, that in order to preserve the memory of that great day of salvation a new Jewish holiday would have been declared commemorating the end of the war. To honor the occasion it is decided that we put on gas masks and dance in the streets as had actually occurred.
After the fact a few scholars who have had their finger on the pulse of Jewish History do a little anthropological survey and discover that for thousands of years Jews have had the custom to wear masks on this day in particular. How odd it would seem, that the theme of the mask would intersect the same day for apparently independent reasons or is there a deeper hidden meaning?
In much the same way, Matzah has significance on Pesach long before and long after the great event of the exodus. Lot left Sodom that night and everyone else was lost. The readiness to move on with little when the signal is given retains its symbolic meaning each year.
There is significance to masks on Purim. HASHEM’s face was hidden because we had turned away. When we rediscover HASHEM and reveal our true essence then HASHEM too is no longer hidden to the Yidden.