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At Purim, flip your lid
March 4th, 2009
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 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.
If you wear a leather kipah, 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 kipah. So why is it that all your friends look at you slightly different 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):
For men, wearing a kipah 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 kipah 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 kipah 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 kipah “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.
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 about 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 kipahs are also hidden (from us). If we could change how we perceive our fellow Jews, that would be a big miracle as well.
One of the central mitzvahs of the holiday is “misloach 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 the “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.
So who is going to be the first to swap the kipah? 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 in to the Red Sea when the Jews left Egypt? We know that Nachson ben Amidav 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 kipah.
One point of clarification: I'm not encouraging levity in the shul. I am simply saying, swap the kipah 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 kipah.”
Having said all this, I realize that there are some very valid reasons for differences in the kipot we wear, as well as the way we dress, and that a kipah 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 kipah 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 yeshivas in New Jersey and New York.kipk