Who's Behind That Mask? Text Study and Art Activity

Purim is one of the happiest holidays in the Jewish calendar. Part of the fun is the custom of dressing up and wearing masks. On Purim, we read from the Megillah (Book of Esther). Throughout the story, we see characters wearing special clothing. Sometimes the clothes hide something about the person and sometimes the clothing tells us more about the person.

In this activity we will:

  • Look at characters in the Megillah who "dress up" and try to figure out why they are wearing the specific clothes and how they might feel about it.
  • Think about how we feel about dressing up or wearing masks - especially during this year when we have been wearing masks every day.
  • Draw pictures of ourselves wearing masks while also showing who we are underneath.

Ask your students:

  • When do you like to dress up and what do you like to dress up as? What has been your favorite costume or character to play?
  • Beyond simply being fun - which is great! - why do you like dressing up as those characters? How do you feel in those costumes?
  • When do you wish you had a mask handy - literally or figuratively - and when do you wish you could take off your mask? Why?

In the Purim story, we are told a lot about what people are wearing. In this activity, we are going to look at two people and their clothes. Just like masks, their clothes can be hiding or telling something about them. Let's read part of the story together and then discuss their "masks".

Esther’s Mask
(י) לֹא־הִגִּ֣ידָה אֶסְתֵּ֔ר אֶת־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶת־מֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ כִּ֧י מָרְדֳּכַ֛י צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תַגִּֽיד׃

Esther had not made known her people nor her kindred; for Mordecai had charged her that she should not tell it.

Discussion Questions

  • How is keeping a secret a way of wearing a mask?
  • How do you think Esther felt about keeping her secret?

The next verse tells us what Esther wore after Mordechai told her that Haman plans on killing the Jews and asked her to go to the king for help.

Read the verse and think about why she might have dressed that way.

(א) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַתִּלְבַּ֤שׁ אֶסְתֵּר֙ מַלְכ֔וּת ...

Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel...

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think Esther was trying to say about herself when she wore her royal clothing?
  • How do you think Esther was really feeling inside at this part of the story?
  • Why do you think that Esther wanted the king to see her in royal clothing? How might her clothes have influenced him?
  • Are there times when you wear certain clothing because you want to make a specific impression? Do the clothes show the real you or do they hide (mask) the real you?
  • What other types of "masks" do you sometimes wear to cover your feelings?

When Mordechai heard the news that Haman wanted to kill the Jews, he changed his clothing. Read the verse below and answer the questions.

Mordechai's Mask
(א) וּמָרְדֳּכַ֗י יָדַע֙ אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר נַעֲשָׂ֔ה וַיִּקְרַ֤ע מָרְדֳּכַי֙ אֶת־בְּגָדָ֔יו וַיִּלְבַּ֥שׁ שַׂ֖ק וָאֵ֑פֶר וַיֵּצֵא֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֔יר וַיִּזְעַ֛ק זְעָקָ֥ה גְדֹלָ֖ה וּמָרָֽה׃
(1) When Mordecai learned all that had happened, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly,

Discussion Questions

  • How did Mordechai feel at this point in the story?

  • Sackcloth and ashes are a sign of mourning or sadness. Why do you think Mordechai walked around the city dressed like this? Why do you think Mordechai wanted people to see him this way?

  • Did the clothing hide (mask) something about Mordechai, show how he really felt inside, or help him to make a point to those who saw him?

  • Do you ever want to make sure that people know exactly how you feel? How might you use clothing or your expression to make sure that people know how you are really feeling?

As we have seen with Esther and Mordechai, sometimes masks help you to show the world the real you and sometimes they cover up who you really are and show the world something totally different.

This year, we all have been wearing lots of masks.

Discussion Questions:

  • How do you feel when you wear your mask?
  • Do you ever feel that it is hard to show the real you under your mask?
  • How do you let people know who you are or how you are feeling when they can't see your face?
  • When, if ever, do you feel relieved that people can't see how you are really feeling?

Mask Activity:

  • In this activity, each student will draw a picture of themselves wearing a mask. The picture will open up and reveal what the student wants others to know about themselves. Keep in mind, sometimes we might want to share even the qualities that aren't our favorites and that we're still working on.
  • Pass out the art materials.
  • Show the students the video. You may want to begin the video at 1:25. Students can work along with the teacher in the video. If students have their own computers, they can each watch it by themselves and pause the video periodically to keep up with the drawing. If the entire class is watching together, the teacher can start and stop the video as needed.

Alternative activity:

Make a mask picture for one of the characters in the Megillah.

  • What do they look like on the outside?
  • Who are they really on the inside?

Wrapping it Up

After the pictures have been made, students can share their work with each other.