Dropping the Mask

May 9, 2009

8 min read


In our story, two boys drop their masks to reveal their true selves and are happy they did it.

Sometimes it's fun to masquerade. On Purim many Jewish children dress up in elaborate masks and costumes.

But when we pretend in our real lives to be something we are not that isn't so much fun. Yet some people feel they have to "wear a mask" and act in certain ways, because they think that's what other people expect of them.

Such behavior only makes the people who are "playing a part" feel like phonies, and it confuses others.

On Purim Queen Esther revealed to the King that she was really Jewish; her revelation made it possible for her to save her people.

Purim teaches us how to drop our masks and be who we really are. Then we can realize that the way God made each one of us is just fine.

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In our story, two boys drop their masks to reveal their true selves and are happy they did it.

"Cancelled Stamps"

By Nesanel Safran

It was the first sunny day in a long time. Michael Jacobs was sitting in his garage with a bicycle pump in his hand. He was just about to inflate his basketball which had gone flat over the winter, when he heard him mom call out in her sing-song voice, "Mich-ael, where are you?"

Michael put down the pump and made his way around the back of the house. Dodging a clothesline, he put his chin up onto the kitchen windowsill where he saw him mother rushing around tidying up. "Yeah Mom?" he said.

Mrs. Jacobs jumped back slightly. "Oh Michael, don't you ever use a door?"

Michael chuckled.

"Well anyway," his Mom went on. "I just got off the phone with Aunt Esther. She and your cousin Ralph are in town for the afternoon, and they're coming over for a visit. So please straighten up your room and change into some clean clothes before they come."

Michael groaned. "Oh Mom, of all days for cousin Ralph to come visit!"

Mrs. Jacobs looked confused. "What's wrong?" she said. "I thought you'd be happy he was coming."

Michael blushed. "I am, Mom," he said. "It's just that when he gets here he's going to want to spend the whole day trading stamps, and I really wanted to shoot some hoops this afternoon. It's finally so nice out."

"So what's the problem?" asked his mom. "Just tell Ralph you'd prefer to play ball with him today. I'm sure he won't mind."

Michael shook his head. "No way Mom!" he exclaimed. "All Ralph cares about are dumb stamps. Whenever we get together that's all we talk about. I'm sorry I ever mentioned to him that I had a stamp collecting kit. When he said he had one too, I pretended to be into it. I never got around to telling him that I just happened to win mine as a raffle prize and that I thought stamps were boring. Now Ralph thinks they're my favorite thing in the world. He said that stamp collecting is a mature hobby. Now if I tell him I'd rather play ball than trade stamps, he'll think I'm a baby."

Mrs. Jacobs stopped for a moment in the midst of her frantic preparations. Looking at her son, she said, "Gee, Mike, I understand how it might be difficult to admit to Ralph that you're really not so interested in stamp collecting as you told him you were, but isn't it better than spending three hours doing something you can't stand?"

Michael just snorted and stomped away. He put his basketball away on the shelf. "I guess I won't be needing you today," he muttered.

A little while later the doorbell rang. The guests had arrived. Aunt Esther was carrying her usual colorfully gift-wrapped box of assorted chocolates and sure enough, cousin Ralph was holding a bulging stamp album.

The two mothers made their way into the den amidst pleasant conversation, leaving the two boys to play by themselves in the parlor.

"Have a seat Ralph" said Michael forcing a smile. "I'll just go get my albums and we can start trading right away."

As Michael turned to leave the room he didn't notice his cousin look out toward the open window and sigh.

Soon the boys settled in to their usual dull routine.

After a while, Michael just couldn't take it anymore. I don't care what he'll think about me, he thought, I just can't keep pretending to be something I'm not.

Michael cleared his throat. "Er ... Ralph," he said hesitantly.

The other boy lifted his eyes from the stamp he had been examining.

"Umm ... It's so nice out. Would you mind a lot if we maybe took a break from the stamps today and ... uh ... we went outside and shot a few hoops?" Michael anxiously waited for his cousin's reaction. But he was amazed to see Ralph's face light up and break out into a big smile.

"Really? Sure! I'd much rather play ball!" he said. "I wanted to suggest the same thing, but I was afraid you'd be upset. I know how much you love to trade stamps."

The boys raced to put away the stamps and practically dashed out of the house. It turned out that Ralph was a really good ball player. After the game, the boys grabbed a cold drink.

"Ralph, I have a confession to make," Michael said. "I don't really like collecting stamps. I just figured you were into it so I went along."

His cousin laughed. "That's funny! I always thought the same thing about you!"

The boys shook their heads and had a good laugh about how each of them had only been trading stamps because he thought that's what the other one liked to do.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Michael feel when he heard his cousin Ralph was coming to visit?

A. He was disappointed since he thought Ralph would only want to play with stamps, and Michael wanted to play basketball.

Q. How did Michael feel after he told Ralph he really would rather play basketball than trade stamps?

A. He felt happy he told him, since Ralph said he also really liked basketball better and now they didn't have to pretend.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why did Michael feel hesitant to tell Ralph that he actually didn't enjoy trading stamps?

A. Once before, to make conversation, Michael pretended he did enjoy stamp trading and his cousin had approved of it, so now Michael now felt he had to keep pretending. He was afraid that if he suddenly admitted the truth, his cousin would look down on him. Often people get caught up in acting in ways that are not sincere, because they are afraid people won't approve of who they really are.

Q. Do you think that it's "worth the risk" for a person to stop pretending and act like who he really is, even if some people might not approve? Why or why not?

A. Usually when a person does this, he will gain much more than he will lose. For one thing, he will be much more at ease. It is very painful and difficult to pretend to "be" someone we're not. God made each of us with our own special qualities and personality. This is our "gift" to the world. When we don't share these by being ourselves, it's painful because deep down we're not fulfilling our purpose in life. Furthermore, our true friends will like us for who we really are. If we have to "pretend" to get somebody else to like us, probably such a friendship won't be so meaningful or long-lasting anyway.

Ages 10 and up

Q. In your opinion, which is preferable:

  1. to do something we know is the right thing to do even if we really doesn't feel it inside, or
  2. to do something we know is wrong, because we really feel like doing it?Why?

A. While generally it's preferable for a person to "be himself" and act the way he really feels, there are serious exceptions. Concerning non-value related issues such as whether to play basketball or trade stamps, or what flavor ice cream to order, certainly it's healthier to simply act how one feels. However, when it comes to values, often what seems hypocritical really isn't. Deep down, each person is genuinely pure and wants to do the right thing. The more he is true to his deepest spiritual self, the more he will come to feel and enjoy it on the surface as well.


Q. There is a Jewish saying: "If I'm I because you're you, and you're you because I'm I, then I'm not I and you're not you. But if I'm I because I'm I, and you're you because you're you, then I'm I and you're you." How do you understand this?

A. Each individual is different, and God wants it that way. Who I am and who you are isn't meant to be the same. My job isn't to pretend to be who I think you would like or expect me to be, nor is it your job to conform to my expectations. In a sense the world is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each person is a unique and valuable piece. Without each of us truly being ourselves, the way that God made us, the puzzle -- the world -- lacks something and is incomplete.


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