Masks and Us – Parshat Ki Tissa/Purim
It is really cool how the weekly Torah reading seems to be especially chosen to correspond with current events, personal milestones or events in the Jewish calendar. Or maybe it is simply our creative ability to find throughout the Torah those messages which are particularly applicable to these events. Or perhaps the Torah is just so full of meaning that we can always find these meaningful correlating ideas.
Either way, in the context of Purim approaching, as I was discussing the concept of the masks we wear in our daily lives, a client pointed out to me that in this week's parsha, Parshat Ki Tissa, even Moshe Rabbeinu had a mask. God had given him a certain light and his face shone from that light. This light, paradoxically, created a barrier between Moshe and the people as they feared approaching him. So he put on a veil.1 And that was acceptable. (Cool that this year we read this portion right after Purim.) We see, however, at least two very different opinions as to the function of the veil. Keli Yakar says that since Moshe was humble, he was embarrassed at receiving so much attention and that's why he wore a mask. The Netziv offers a different explanation. He says that Moshe wanted the veil because when he was not teaching the people or performing his judiciary duties, he was concerned he would lose his train of thought if people were constantly looking at him. Just from these two opinions, and there are more,2 we see that masks can provide us with many different functions.
There is general agreement that we all have 'masks' that we wear. These masks can be very helpful. There are times when we 'put on a face' for our children. Sometimes we put on a mask to hide our hurt or embarrassment. Sometimes we just don't have the tiem or patience to open up and put on an everything's okay face. There are times though, and these are the more difficult times, we are not even aware of our masks. Although there are professional therapists who suggest we remove our masks entirely and show ourselves freely, I am not convinced that we should do so rather that we learn what these masks are, what function they perform for us and how best to use them. And if a situation arises that is so difficult that our masks are beyond our control, then maybe the time has come to consult with a professional about all that is going on inside and outside.
Speaking recently with a group of parents with kids who have special needs I asked them about the masks they wear. They all spoke of a need for masks – one for extended family, one for the grocer, one for those few who really know what they are going through and one for those at work. There were a few couples where there was a different mask for each spouse and a different one for them together - and a few more for good measure. We spoke of the legitimacy of using masks and they listening intensely and participating freely. The feedback was incredible with reports of a sense of relief and some easing of their pain. We didn’t even remove their masks. They simply became aware of them.
Eventually, I would suggest exercising more control of our masks. When we know which mask we are using and when, we can be more authentic. When we are more authentic, we feel better about ourselves even though it can sometimes feel unpleasant. But at least we know it is ourselves that we are showing. True, it can be confusing. When I am with a client, there is a certain professional demeanor that I employ. Am I being authentically me with certain boundaries or am I wearing a professional mask? I like to believe that it is the former. I do much work on myself in order to be fully present. Being present is a goal of mine when I am working in the clinic.3
There are some people, rare that they may be, who really don’t use masks. Their inside and outside are the same. They use wisdom instead of masks when communicating to different people on different levels. Maybe someday we can all be on that level. For now, let us don our masks for Purim and learn how to use our other masks wisely for our own meaningful growth and well-being.
Have A Great Shabbat!