I looked forward to Purim with great anticipation and some trepidation. The trepidation arises because it isn’t just about eating, drinking, dancing and making merry. It’s about doing Mitzvahs first and getting them done within a brief span of time, which becomes ever so stressful as the deadline draws near. It’s about taking care of each other; giving tzedaka to the poor, bringing gifts of food to those in need, to those who are not yet well and to Jews who are not yet connected (to bring them back into the fold). We have to be like the U.S. Marines on the battlefield; no Jew gets left behind. So, we are required to fulfill all of those duties and responsibilities before the Purim feast begins and with Shabbos falling out on the eve of the Holiday, advanced planning becomes that much more crucial. It all comes down to the way we Jews celebrate any holiday; not to satisfy our cravings for pleasurable things, but to show our appreciation with unbridled joy and accepting the yoke of Heaven without question or hesitation. So, with Purim we celebrate redemption from a decree of total extinction; the undoing of creation, so to speak because a world without Jews, G-d forbid, cannot exist. Thus, to show our appreciation to our Heavenly Father, we take care of our obligations first; HaShem presents us with the check before we have the party. Only then are we ready to don our costumes and whoop it up, leaving all worldly concerns at the door. The costume custom has taken on a special significance because it causes us to call attention to ourselves in a much bigger way than the wearing of the black hat and tzitzis hanging out.
In fact, thanks to the Rebbe and his schluchim, when a goy sees a Yid wearing the usual Hassidic garb, it’s no big deal anymore. They’ve gotten use to it; at least in South Florida. However, on Purim, the goyim see us and wonder why people are wearing costumes when it’s way past Halloween. Nonetheless, when we walk around in public wearing our Purim gear, they are surprised and delighted. They ask out of curiosity and learn about Purim and the world gets more elevated because we are publicly celebrating something good and holy and sharing it with everyone. The bottom line is that everybody likes to party and people are looking for much more than just meaningless fun. When it comes to other Jews who are not yet observant, they see our costumes and it jars their memories of Purim. They smile, walk over and strike up a conversation with, “I’m also Jewish. This is a wonderful holiday, isn’t it?” This is an effortless out reach. The costumes become magnets for every neshamah who perks up and says, “Hey I want to join the festivities too!”
Therefore, because I wanted to evoke more of such responses, I knew that I was going to have to appear looking silly somewhere in public at some point while I was running my errands on Purim day after Shacharit. This wasn’t my style; I dislike drawing attention to myself. I was very comfortable with wearing my Tzitzis on the outside and nobody taking notice anymore. But Purim requires the opposite; it requires that we overcome our discomfort, go against our nature and go over the top. So, I started out driving around in my convertible with the top down wearing my King Arthur costume. There were a lot of stares, snickering and finger pointing.
However, every time someone honked, smiled and shouted, “Chag samayach!” or “Happy Purim!” it was worth every awkward moment. Yet, the toughest part was walking in to B.J.’s to buy a few things. After all, it’s not everyday that people, gentiles and Jews alike, get to see a medieval king with a bejeweled golden crown, body armor and a sword pushing a grocery cart in a supermarket. One customer thought I was promoting the grand opening of a new Burger King franchise. Another person asked me if I was on my lunch break from the local theater. Little kids waved thinking that I was an animated storybook character as I was walking past the children’s books and videos. I could have reinvented myself a dozen times in that 30 minute shopping spree. On the other hand, with all my discomfort, no one got angry or annoyed or seemed incensed by my appearance.
In fact, it seemed that with the help of HaShem, I was able to fill an entire warehouse with smiles and laughter from dozens of people who won’t soon forget their experience in B.J.’s on Purim day. What a way to elevate a few sparks! Finally, the time came for the feast. I made it just under the wire for the Motzeh. It was time to unwind. The party at The Shul in Bal Harbor kicked off with a beautiful display of the children in their costumes; we saw a butterfly, princess, pirate, skeleton and a few cartoon characters. It wasn’t a contest, but everybody was a winner just the same. The adults also had shown up as all sorts of interesting creatures and personalities like clowns, sheriffs, cowboys and a couple of other kings. There were even some fellows who looked like Hassidic rabbis and once the party was in full swing, the crowd reveled in holiness.