Where do we find Esther alluded to in the Torah? Because it
is written, "And I shall verily hide My face" (Chulin
The Task of the Mask
by R' Arye Geffen
A mask is generally intended to conceal and cover what lies
behind it, to provide a different face. Anyone gazing upon
the mask sees the face with a new interpretation, another
expression and representation, another outlook to an exposed
truth even though it may be hidden underneath the mask. Our
essay deals with the mask and what lies behind it.
A person's face is like the shadow that constantly pursues
him. The shadow is sometimes dwarfed by the body it reflects
and is the runner-up and-behind; it shadow-boxes with its
owner from the side, back, front; it is the tag along, the
The same applies to a person's face. Each day is faced by its
particular face, each period in life and its facade, its
expression. A man possesses seventy faces, if you will, each
hiding a different aspect of his inner personality, which
rarely makes its own appearance to reveal the true face. One
cannot judge a person by his physiognomic exterior; there is
too much hidden behind.
Masks can be divided into several categories. Each mask has
its habitat, its home-range, the source which nurtures it.
And even masks possess many faces and fall into many
groupings, upon which we shall elaborate.
"Thou Shalt Make Yourself No Molten Gods"
The first group is composed of those few people who refuse to
don any mask whatsoever, who will never face another person
frontally with the truth they harbor within their hearts.
They seek no masks to hide behind; they make no pretenses and
do not change roles or representations.
A mikveh purifies a person from his defilement only if
he immerses himself in a body containing at least forty
so'oh. On the other hand, a flowing fountain has the
capacity of purifying anyone who immerses completely in its
waters, even if the flow is less than the above requirement
at any given time, since the fountain is a powerful entity at
its initial, primary source. When a person comes with the
very source, he does not require mass or quantity since the
effervescence alone constitutes a true and original source
stronger than anything else.
People of quality will have nothing to do with substitutes,
parodies, counterfeits or imitations. The fountain that flows
in their souls is a source of life, it is pristine,
unpolluted or contaminated; it is pure. People of this
caliber have their own manner of speech, a style that bursts
forth from their very essence, an inimical mode that breathes
truth and originality. Since it is not an imitation, it must
be primary and generative. It is a style purely theirs.
The Admor R' Itche Meir of Ger zt'l uttered one of the
most original statements I have ever heard: "I never imitated
any person, except for one, when I went and imitated my
father and followed his advice, doing exactly what he bade
me. And he told me: `Never imitate any person!'"
Whoever follows his own instinct, the dictates of his own
conscience, shuns a mask, even when there is a price to pay,
which is sometimes very high. Not everyone will understand
him. He cannot always be pleasant and accommodating. He must
sometimes be distant and cool for the sake of his own
integrity. He must sacrifice acceptance and popularity; he
refuses to bow to what the public would like to see. They,
for their part, will not don any mask, for any person. They
will not melt down, remold or modify their stand, their
appearance, for anyone. No molten gods for them.
Those Who Live by the Mirror Reflection
There is another group: those who draw their vitality from
the mask, from play acting, false representation of anything
except their true essence. Their aspirations are built on
"How do I look to others? What impression do I make? What do
others think of me?"
Whenever they want to know what lies inside their soul, in
what way they are unique, they ask the mirror on the wall.
They look outward, at reflections. They think that the more
successful they appear in the eyes of others, the better off
they are, for this is the true picture of their worth. Their
identity is expressed in terms of what others think of them,
like the identical twin who asks his brother to try something
on so he will see how he will look in it. This is a looking
Life flits by, eddies all around them, without truly
involving them. Everything is for appearance' sake; nothing
is real. They are indentured servants, from ear-to-heel, to
the rings and shackles of public opinion. They blithely swim
along with the current of the mass mind, drowning any
private, personal notions or ideas. They buy clothing, go on
vacation, hold simchas, send children to educational
institutions -- all according to the fashion of the times.
Their lives are dictated by "what everyone is doing," what is
"in," by what they see reflected in the public mirror many
times, from the mass-many.
Not only do they wear the mask on their face, but they cloak
themselves in an entire theatrical mantle to smother their
very soul. Not an inch of their true selves must peak out;
they leave only slits in their masquerade for the eyes, lest
they reveal any real essence that is not smeared by mass
mores. Anything that might identify them as "different." They
are like marionettes, dancing on strings pulled by the pace
setting of society. They may fool others; they are certainly
making fools of themselves.
Why "did fire consume the cedars"? Because they lived
according to "what will the lowly lichen say". In bowing and
scraping to public propriety, their own backbones
disintegrated into gel. They forfeited any individual
opinion; any originality ever possessed was gobbled and
garbled by the tentacles of mass opinion into a mass jelly.
Chazal said, "`A person's opinion should forever be mingled
among his fellow man' -- so that each one should do as he
individually feels is best" (Kesuvos 17 and Rashi).
The Mask of the Critic
There is a third group which wears a mask, understandably,
because they are afraid to show faces that are wicked, wily,
stony and scheming.
This group shows its face only to itself. The mask they
choose to don at any given occasion is the one that bests
suits their purposes.
Truth is like a rainbow to them; it is composed of a spectrum
with a range, or like a bow which must be straightened for
their purposes. Does a ladder incline? They are there to
erect it perpendicularly. They are "the conscience of
society," within single quotes. They subscribe to law and
justice -- as they interpret it, to righting wrongs, to
making sure that others toe the line. They will tirelessly
criticize everything around them. They have something to say
about everything, and declare it with righteous
In our sources, a beard is called chasimas zokon, a
"signature" or seal, since the beard seals and conceals the
face behind it. Is the face behind it smooth? Is the beard
genuine or does it serve for no more than a Purim mask? What
function does any given beard serve to its wearer?
There are faces as smooth as marble, still awaiting the first
scraggles of a beard, waiting to see how the prickly hairs
will sit on the host face, how they will look and what they
There was once an ancient philosopher who was an expert in
character analysis and knew what a person was best suited for
in life. He told each one what his strengths and weaknesses
were extremely accurately. In one area, however, he failed.
He could not diagnose his own son's fortes. He studied his
behavior carefully and one day, saw the youth standing by a
young mewling sheep. "Meh, meh," said the sheep.
The boy chided the animal, saying, "That's not how you're
supposed to bleat. Say `meheheh, meheheh, meheheh.'"
At these words, the father's eyes lit up in joy. "Now I know
your destiny in life," he said to the child. "When you grow
up, you're going to be a great philosopher!"
The second type of people do not only put on masks for their
own faces; they see to it that others put on the proper
masks, make the proper appearance, play the game according to
They seem to be taking up the rear command; they manufacture
masks for the public, for they believe that if they "educate"
others, they are discharging their public duty and are no
longer under any obligation. A man once said to a Torah
leader, "I am already a lost case. What I want now is for my
son to become a godol beTorah. I desire this with all
my heart." Answered that sage, "Never mind. If he doesn't
make it, at least he will aspire that his son will
become that godol. Thus, in an unbroken chain [always
just one step behind]."
Something interesting has happened to this group in the
course of time. A subcategory has emerged, a subgroup that
believes with all its heart that the world is full of hurdles
and stumbling blocks. Misfortune and injustice lurks
everywhere and only they can right all wrongs.
One such person, the self-styled [Robin Hood] who is replete
with good intentions, saints in their own eyes, is the butt
of the following joke: A man once met a friend carrying a
suitcase and, full of curiosity, immediately asked him where
he was headed. "To Bnei Brak," the latter replied curtly. The
first man gave him a sharp look and said, "Oh, I can guess
that. And I know you told me you were going to Bnei Brak so
that I would think you were going to Petach Tikvah. But you
can't fool me because I know that you really are going
to Bnei Brak. So why do you have to lie and make me think
The Mask of Derech Eretz
Another group standing by the mask counter waiting to be
served needs masks that are reversed, the hat with its crown
turned around. They spin their masks on their finger with a
smugness as if to say, "Come, listen to what I have to say.
Come, study by me and I'll teach you a thing or two."
This group is composed of those who are young in spirit but
old in self importance. They think that whatever they are
told by those with experience, parents or educators, is
something that must be turned about and done differently.
They, themselves, surely know better, they are "with it."
They know how to run the world and are prepared to do so,
militantly. One glance at the cocky, cockeyed way they wear
their mask is enough to reveal what they are underneath. To
rephrase an old adage, "Tell me what you are impersonating
and I'll tell you what you are."
The Bostoner Rebbe was surely referring to this type when he
once said at a Purim tish, "Why is the gemora
always asking for the reasoning of the first tana
quoted in the mishna, and not the reasoning of the
second one? The answer is very simple: the second tana
already heard what the first one had to say, so he
automatically knows that he must say the opposite, whereas
the tana kama hadn't heard anyone's opinion yet.
Where, then, did he get his opinion?"
A Mask to the Skin
And, finally, there is a group of loners, purists, who hid
themselves because they are too fit to be seen. They must don
a mask to hide that which would shake ordinary people.
"`And Moshe finished talking with them and he donned a mask
to his face' -- for after they had sinned, they were not
worthy of even looking their `agent' in the face" (Pesikta
d'R' Kahana 5). As soon as the Jews worshiped the Golden
Calf and defiled themselves with idolatry, they were unable
to gaze upon the rays of glory which radiated from Moshe's
face. They begged Moshe to don a mask to cover his holy
radiance, to cover up the cry in their hearts over the fact
that they had lost so much, had fallen so low through their
Esther withheld the facts of her origin and nationality. That
king was not worthy of knowing her pure source. Esther did
not tell -- she preserved her modesty and self respect. "The
glory of Hashem lies in the hidden thing." Only when she had
to risk her very life, when she declared that "As I am lost,
I am lost," did she allow him a glimpse of her origin. Only
then did she remove her mask of concealment and secrecy to
tell him the truth.
"What is the origin of Esther in the Torah? Because it is
written, `And I shall verily hide My face,'" (Chulin
139b). We find ourselves in a generation of hester
ponim. Everything appears to be overt, obvious, simple
and clear. Every setback or hurdle has a corresponding
explanation, a seemingly rational reason. And the list of the
finger pointing is long: the Angel of Death is to blame, the
condition of the roads is to blame, human error is the
culprit, incurable illnesses are at fault, the Oslo
agreements are at fault, or, alternately, Saddam and his
madness, or in narrow terms -- one's place of work, one's
boss, one's neighbors and so on.
"How great are Your works, Hashem; how profound are Your
thoughts. An ignorant person will not know and a fool will
not understand this." One must be a boor and fool not to see
Hashem's presence and providence everywhere; he must be
wearing a mask or veil over his good sense and senses not to
be aware that there are miracles to be seen, that it is all a
cover-up, a curtain over the truth and another drape to hide
that curtain. Concealment within concealment.
"And I shall verily hide My face..."
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