By Andrew Neff
NEW YORK (JTA) — For Purim this year, I have a great idea for your costume. It’s easy. It’s inexpensive. It takes under three seconds to prepare. And it will go to incredible lengths to promote Jewish unity.
Before the idea, however, a warning and a challenge: Even though it’s really easy, most people will find it really hard to do.
Flip your lids. That is, wear a different kippah.
If you wear a leather kippah, wear a velvet one. If you wear a velvet one, wear one of those Zionistic knitted ones. If you wear a knitted one, don one of those cheap shiny white ones.
It is also an amazing social experiment because you are the same person you were a moment ago when you had on your regular kippah. So why is it that all your friends look at you slightly differently and wonder what’s going on?
Here are four perspectives on what, why and how we should “flip our lids” this year for Purim, which is March 10 (or March 11 in Jerusalem):
1. It’s what inside your head that counts.
For men, wearing a kippah is important as a sign of respect for HaShem. But Jewish law allows a great deal of leeway as to what the head covering should look like.
What if just for one day, we changed the type of kippah that we wear? Would it help us see our fellow Jews from a different perspective?
This idea occurred to me recently when I inadvertently forgot to wear my standard black leather kippah when I walked to a neighbor’s house. Someone noted it and I asked to borrow one for the way home. They lent me a velvet “yeshivish” one. I put it on and walked home.
My family was alarmed. Did I go “yeshivish”? they asked. But I was the same person before, during and after my kippah “experiment.”
So here’s the first point: It doesn’t matter what you put on your head; it matters what you put in your head.
2. Only you can see my kippah.
The next point is also about perception. Unless I look in the mirror, I can’t even see my kippah. You see it. So the kippah is not really about me but about how you see it and what it means to you.
Our sages talk about how Purim is a holiday of hidden miracles. For example, God’s name is not explicitly in the Megillah, but our sages teach us that we can actually see that God is always present. In the same way, our kippot are also hidden (from us). If we could change how we perceive our fellow Jews, that would be a big miracle as well.
3. Fulfill the mitzvot of Purim.
One of the central mitzvot of the holiday is mishloach manot, or giving gifts of food to your friends. Some of our sages note that its purpose is to promote unity among Jews, noting that unity was critical to our success against Haman and his plans.
Flipping your lid can also promote unity, as it will help us to realize that many of our differences are just external.
Another mitzvah on Purim is that one should drink until you can’t tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” What does this mean?
There is mystical explanation. Some say that Purim is not just a story about ancient history but also an allusion to the future. This expression is a veiled reference to the world to come, when we will see that all of our curses are actually blessings.
4. Just do it.
So who is going to be the first to swap the kippah? What will your friends think if they don’t do it? What will your rabbi think?
A question: What was the name of the second person who jumped into the Red Sea when the Jews left Egypt? We know that Nachshon ben Aminadav was the first one to jump in, but what is the name of the second person? Give up? I don’t know either; I don’t think anyone does. But that is the point: We all know the first person who does something.
So the message is, be a leader. Be the first one to show up with a different kippah.
One point of clarification: I’m not encouraging levity in the shul. I am simply saying, swap the kippah that you always wear with the one that your friend always wears.
In Pirkei Avot, Hillel says, “Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.” Perhaps we can replace “reached his place” with “worn his kippah.”
Having said all this, I realize that there are some very valid reasons for differences in the kippot we wear, as well as the way we dress, and that a kippah is often a very powerful statement of a certain lifestyle. But at the same time, is it possible for just one day to note that there are more things with which we agree than with which we disagree?
Purim is about hidden miracles; a kippah is a great metaphor for something that is hidden. So for just one day, flip your lid and see how it can change your perspective about your fellow Jews.
Andrew Neff worked on Wall Street for 25 years and now studies in yeshivot in New Jersey and New York.
A recession kind of Purim
By Rachel Tepper
And it came to pass that there was a king of Persia named Ahasuerus, and he sat on his throne in Shushan the capital. One day, he decided to throw a great feast for all its inhabitants to attend.
King Ahasuerus: I’m gonna throw the biggest bash this town has ever seen!
Vashti: Aren’t we in a recession?
KA: The biggest! The bestest! The greatest gosh-darn hootenanny this side of the Euphrates!
And true to his word, King Ahasuerus spared no expense in delivering the most lavish party Shushan had ever seen. The plates were gold. The goblets were gold. Even the party favors were gold.
Guest #1: That’s the strangest piñata I’ve ever seen…
KA: It’s good to be the king.
His queen, Vashti, was less than amused by her husband’s extravagance. She knew times were tough for working-class Shushaners, and wasteful spending was hardly a message to send the people.
KA: Vashti, c’mon baby. Get out here and do a little dance! And then I’d like to treat everyone to a swim in my pool full of money!
Vashti: Are you insane? No way, José. You best take note — there won’t be much money left unless you mend your ways. Think about the deficit!
KA: The only deficit here should be you!
And with that, King Ahasuerus sent Vashti away. However, it wasn’t long before he realized that not only was he lonely, but Vashti may have been right after all. His Adviser, the wicked Haman, had allowed for much irresponsible spending and many Shushaners feared they would lose their jobs. Without knowing where to turn, the king arranged for a beauty contest to find his next wife. This time, without a piñata made of gold.
KA: Which one is that, right there? The beautiful one!
Adviser #1: That’s Esther, my liege. She’s young, beautiful and brainy. And she’s debt-free.
KA: I’ll take her!
King Ahasuerus chose Esther for his queen. But Esther concealed something from her new husband: She was a Jew. And she felt strongly about responsible fiscal policy. But her cousin Mordechai encouraged her to keep this a secret.
Esther: I dunno about this queen thing; I’m not sure it’s such a good idea.
Mordechai: In this economy, not everyone has job security. This seems like a good gig, and I’m pretty sure you get health care.
One day, Mordechai overheard two guards talking in the palace yard; they were plotting against King Ahasuerus.
Guard #1: I heard they’re going to lay some of us off. Something about the treasury being cleaned out … after they bailed out the chariot industry!
Guard #2: That’s ridiculous! I say we do something about it! We should go after Ahasuerus.
Mordechai understood the trials of everyday working folk, but he knew violence was never the answer. He alerted King Ahasuerus, and the rogue guards were apprehended. Mordechai’s service was recorded in the official royal register. Not long after, Mordechai passed the king’s adviser, Haman, in the street outside the palace.
Haman: Hello there, Jew. Bow down to me!
Mordechai: I can bow to no one but God. And certainly not someone who so blatantly gives free handouts to hotshot Oil Lamp execs and ignores the people on Main Street.
Haman, enraged, went immediately to King Ahasuerus. He demanded that not only should Mordechai be punished, but the entire Jewish community as well.
Haman: This whole economy bust thing is the Jews’ fault! They should be made to pay for all the damage they’ve done.
The king, not knowing that his new bride was herself a Jew, acquiesced. Haman rejoiced, and began building a gallows. However, King Ahasuerus was unable to sleep that night. His kingdom was falling apart — the palace budget was in shambles and everywhere people were feeling the effects. Even donkeys were having trouble finding work. To help calm his mind, he began reading the royal register, where he learned of Mordechai’s service.
KA: It says here that this man saved my life — and that he’s suggesting something called the Shushan Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 360 BCE? This Mordechai guy might be on to something … he must be honored!
The next day, the king went to Haman and asked his advice.
KA: Haman, how shall I honor the man who saved my life and possibly the economy of Shushan?
Haman: Why, you should parade him around town and give him shiny doodads. And, um, give him a personal tax cut. You mean me, right?
But to Haman’s shock and anger, King Ahasuerus demanded that it was not he, but Mordechai, who should be honored. He arranged for a banquet to be held in Mordechai’s honor.
Esther: Oh king honey? I have to tell you something. This guy you’re honoring — he’s my cousin. Yep, that means I’m a Jew. And there’s something we’ve been meaning to tell you: Your adviser, Haman, is the one running the economy into the ground. You’ve got to get rid of him and start listening to people who want what’s best for the people of Shushan and aren’t guided by the interests of the wealthy few.
The King realized that Esther’s words were true. With that, he ordered that Haman, not Mordechai, be hanged on the gallows. In Haman’s post, he installed Mordechai to be his new adviser. Things began looking up in Shushan; slowly but surely, people started finding work and saving money. Persia once again became a great and prosperous nation, all thanks to some common sense and responsible fiscal planning. Change had finally come.
Rachel Tepper is a freelance journalist and PR professional living in Washington, D.C.
By Andrew Neff