Growing up, dress-up was a frequent part of my routine. Trying on different costumes and outfits, along with their connected personalities and attitudes, was exciting and always something new and different. From being a superhero saving a city to assuming the role of an actor in a movie, I loved the feeling of adventure and opportunity that came with putting on that hat, shirt, mask or even going by a different name and story. My friends and I looked forward to these adventures and stories, and our alter egos spent many hours traveling and exploring.
You know that old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same? Well, it's true. Many years later, I still love stories and adventures. Those who spend any significant amount of time with me know that I am a fan of all things Spider-Man and Batman. I wear many hats (and masks) in the various roles I play in my communities, and I am always down for a good adventure during a road trip or (infrequent) non-scheduled weekend afternoon. But here's the thing: all of these examples are voluntary situations where I can choose how I dress or act. Sometimes, we don't have the ability to decide which mask we're wearing. When do I find the right time to share my story with someone? What parts of my identity do I reveal in an effort to be authentic and true to myself while in relationship with others?
The themes of identity and donning/removing clothing are threaded throughout our ancient texts. A biblical narrative beginning with Adam and Eve as they ventured into uncharted territory outside of the Garden of Eden and passed down through the generations, the Scroll of Esther presents a poignant account of donning and removing clothing and tells a story which is largely focused on revealing and concealing. What can we learn from the act of concealing? When are the moments that we let our true colors shine through, and when are the times that we feel like we must hide or alter ourselves? What do the masks and costumes we wear say about ourselves, as well as provide insight into those around us?
Baseless hatred (see Brussels) and discrimination (see North Carolina) surrounded our Purim celebrations this week. Many of my colleagues, teachers and friends were faced with an interesting dilemma while attending a policy conference - stay and listen to a leading Presidential candidate who has not been leading by his values, or exit the public space and go study those very values which have been absent from said candidate's campaign.
As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spider-Man) as he navigated his abilities and identities, "With great power comes great responsibility." (See also: Pirke Avot 4:1) Hillel spun it (pun intended) a bit differently: "In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader." (Pirke Avot 2:6) When do we know it is our time to jump in? Are there times when we feel compelled to act because of the mask that we wear? What are the obligations that come with the uniform, title, hat or role that we present - quietly or loudly - when interacting with others? How do we represent who we are through our actions? (See also: Batman Begins)
This Shabbat, Parashat Tzav encourages us to find the fire that burns within. Scratch that. We are commanded to keep the fire burning. While the text is somewhat vague when it comes to identifying the fire of which it speaks, we can read it a few different ways:
Literal: Priests should take care of the sacrificial alters in the ancient tabernacle and Temple;
Poetic: we should be encouraged to develop our passions and turn them into action.
At times, we may not be quite sure how we feel about something...or know that something is bothering us, but can't quite put our finger on it. Other times, we are filled with passion and purpose. And while many of us live in between and embrace periodic ambivalence, deep down we know that we must make a decision and do what is right [for us or for the situation]. Those moments and decisions may be planned, or are surprises at other times. While we're not always comfortable, we must challenge ourselves to follow our hearts and guts...even if it means doing so while wearing a mask. After all, it's not always who you are or what you wear, but it's what you do that defines you.