During Purim, we are directed to turn things on their heads, reverse them, and mix them up. This is fantastic advice for those of us who sometimes find ourselves in boring routines, or those who enjoy a creative jolt from time to time.
One of the courses I enjoyed most during my time in college was a short story writing class in the English department. I was a science major, but my school required coursework across ten disciplines, and this class looked fun and fulfilled one of those requirement. The course was structured around six unrelated writing assignments, and each one asked us to take an original work we’d written according to a prompt and then revise it according to guidelines designed to shake us out of our assumptions and routines.
One story was to be rewritten swapping the genders of every character we’d included in the first version. Another would shift from 2nd or 3rd person perspective to 1st person. Another shifted us from past or present to future tense. At first I thought I’d just go through the story and make mechanical adjustments – find every male name and make it female and vice versa. But that wasn’t the point, the point was to think through the impact these changes or reversals could or should make on the story itself, and to use them as opportunities to write with deeper understanding, meaning, and nuance than we would have with just a simple revision for grammar or style.
This is the same wisdom we can glean from shaking things up on Purim, if we choose to. What an amazing opportunity we have – not just to try on a mask or costume, but to consider ways in which we can stretch our own sense of who we are and who we could be through play, pretend, and creativity. To move past the parts of ourselves that we highlight and pay attention to every day and consider some part of ourselves that is usually overlooked, downplayed, or perhaps we’d prefer not to acknowledge exists at all. What would happen if we shift a little focus toward that under-utilized and less comfortable corner of our identity?
This might be one of the reasons masks and costumes can be a little edgy or scary, because those parts of us are not as well-explored territory as the parts we use daily. Those parts are a little bit wilderness, and therefore a little bit wild. That’s fun, and often funny, but also less predictable and maybe also less easy to control. As adults, we tend not to pay attention to them, and so I bet it is pretty healthy to let them have at least one day each year to get in the driver’s seat and see what happens.
Purim is an opportunity for this kind of bush-whacking through our internal jungles, but just because the holiday is behind us doesn’t mean you can’t still take the time to play! This Shabbat, I encourage you to ask your loved ones if there is a playful part of you they wish they saw more of. Maybe you can flip something in your regular routine and see what happens!