Slowly but surely, it looks and feels like the masks are coming off. And it could be that more masks will be coming off just as we in the Orthodox Jewish community are putting our masks on for Purim.
Pretty soon our Judaica stores will be featuring all kinds of different and sundry Purim costumes along with most likely an array of various masks. For now, though, or for this year anyway, I think the doctor’s or nurse’s outfit with a surgical mask will not be as popular as it may have been in the pre-pandemic years, if you can recall those.
So let’s just do an early recap—masks are both coming off and going on.
After two years of dealing with corona, the one certain thing is a massive amount of uncertainty. As Rochelle Walensky of the CDC said recently, wearing a mask probably contributes at least in a minimal way to reducing the possibility that you will catch this virus.
As I shared with the readers last week, we were in Florida where all along the masking requirements were more loosely structured than they have ever been in New York. That is not because Floridians are more careless about their health than New Yorkers are. Both states are advised and directed by competent health experts. So what is the fundamental difference in the approach to what state governments are requiring of their citizens?
Most buildings or stores that you enter in Florida have a variety of signs and directions on masking these days. Even back to last summer, the Marriott hotel we were at in Boca Raton had a large electronic board in the lobby that states that unvaccinated guests are required to wear masks in public spaces.
This time it seemed that the signage was somewhat expanded. Most stores we entered said nothing and left it up to the individuals to do as they saw fit, which is the way it should have been done from the start. Our so-called leaders think we are all idiots but they are wrong, in most instances, about that too.
On the store entrances that had mask instructions, I saw more signs that said wearing masks “was recommended” rather than required, though there were several on which it said “required.” To test the nature of the policy, I didn’t don a mask in one of the “required” shops and no one said anything, as would have been the case in the past.
As time has moved on, the so-called mask mandates have had less to do with health and more to do with politics and that has become clearer on a daily basis. Many of our political leaders have popped up in photos these last few weeks disregarding their own masking requirements—not because they do not care about their health, but rather that they feel that masking, as Ms. Walensky stated, only minimally contributes to keeping the virus away from individuals.
We are now in the midst of the first of two months of Adar, which gives us an extra few weeks to think about and possibly purchase the masks we’d like to wear once Purim arrives in Adar 2. Stores that sell costumes and masks exclusively will be opening in the next couple of weeks. It is the proper time to take a closer look at what we seek to achieve by wearing Purim masks and their parallel to the breaking down of our Purim masking policies.
Essentially, the concept of masks on Purim is a demonstration of G-d’s hiddenness in the Purim miracle. In the events surrounding Purim, nothing was what it looked like or seemed to be on the surface. Haman was a genocidal maniac, a descendant of Amalek who was committed to the elimination of the Jewish people by any means possible, no matter how evil or violent. Haman did not communicate his malevolent objectives to King Achashverosh in those terms. His petition to the king was that it was in the kingdom’s best interest to do away with the Jewish people. Haman’s form of ancient masking was deceptive.
Esther found herself in a similar circumstance where she had to present herself as someone other than who she actually was. She had no choice but to present herself as a candidate for Queen, though she was a basYisrael who did not belong in those types of circumstances.
And then there is the matter of the entire Megillah that we read on Purim but does not make even one mention of the name of Hashem. The lesson we learn from G-d being masked in the Megillah is that His presence is so complete and pervasive that the mention of His name would only diminish the greatness of the miracle of the Jewish people in Shushan and the surrounding areas during that time.
Two years later, we are learning similar lessons from governmental masking policies that have dramatically impacted our society and in particular our school-age children. The theme these last few months as the pandemic seems to be waning is maintaining harsh rules for citizens of blue states, with no apparent requirement that those who make the rules adhere to them.
Case in point was the Super Bowl the other night that took place in Los Angeles, which has some of the strictest indoor masking mandates. Celebrities and political leaders were seen throughout the game sitting indoors (it is a domed stadium and they were in luxury box seats) not eating or drinking with no masks anywhere in sight. The much-used adage here is “rules for thee but not for me.”
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, when asked at one of the earlier playoff football games why he was seen unmasked, explained that when the photo was taken, he was holding his breath. He was either kidding or genuinely believes that we are all extremely dumb. The only thing that is strict here is the double standard and it seems that even in some blue states like New Jersey, for example, mask mandates are being dropped—though not for those who it hurts most, the children.
Those making the rules with little knowledge will tell you incessantly that they are adhering to science and that if you do not listen to them then you are anti-science. Those like Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health fail to communicate that the nature or definition of science is that it has the right to change every day. It’s a good position to be in if you are in that business or position. What those allegedly adhering to science know is just as important as what they do not know.
And that is another aspect of the upcoming Purim holiday that shares a common characteristic with today’s masking and pandemic policies—the halachic requirement not to know what you are talking about, ad di lo yodea.
The Talmud in Megilla discusses the need to become inebriated to the point where in Purim you cannot discern between the fashion in which Mordechai was blessed and Haman was cursed. The very next topic in the Gemara tells the story of Raba and R’ Zeyra who were having the Purim seudah together. Raba became so intoxicated that he mindlessly slaughtered his friend whom he was dining with. According to the Talmud, this took place when there were no vaccines, so R’ Zeyra’s apparent death did not come about because he was either vaccinated or not. The Talmud relates when Raba discovered that he had murdered R’ Zeyra, he performed a miracle and resurrected him—so no damage done. Different commentaries dispute what happened here. Some say that Raba did not kill his friend in a drunken stupor but rather humiliated him, which our sages say is tantamount to murdering someone. Others say that Raba induced his associate to drink excessively, which made him terribly ill until he recovered the next day. The Gemara says that the next year Raba once again invited R’ Zeyra to join his Purim seudah but that after the trauma of the previous year his dear friend respectfully declined the offer.
The point here, in a more contemporary context, is it is possible to become intoxicated in other ways than by drinking wine or alcohol. As we have seen, one can become drunk with power and even self-aggrandizement. We have seen that with store clerks, flight attendants, and other situations that we are all familiar with on some level.
A key difference between the masking and drinking over Purim is that the next day you are sober and the mask gets put away until next year.
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