The Willing Suspension of Disbelief
I once heard an interview with a leading British stage actor. He found life rather frightening. When you got up in the morning, he said, you never quite knew what was going to happen to you. However, in every day, there were two and a half hours when everything was totally reliable, two and a half hours when nothing would change, when all would be completely as he expected it to be.
When he walked out onto the stage, he entered a world where everything was comfortably and exactly the same as it was the previous night. That's what he loved about acting. He would say "Good morning, Mr. Jones!" And the other actor would reply "And a Good Morning to you, Mr. Baker!" Night after night it would be the same. In the midst of a world over which one had no control, in which anything could happen, there were two and a half hours where everything was reassuringly unchanged and unchanging.
On Purim, we also dress up in fantasy costume and put on plays. But what is the connection between Purim and drama?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge called drama "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." When we sit in a theater, we willingly suspend our disbelief. We know that everything that is happening on the stage isn't real, but the playwright, the actors and the audience all enter into a conspiracy "of poetic faith" in an attempt to bring to life a quasi-reality that will transcend and communicate some perception about life in this world.
Unlike other religions, there are no leaps of faith in Judaism. Maybe a couple of steps at the end of a long well-lit boulevard, but no leaps into the dark. Judaism is not so much about belief as the "willing suspension of disbelief."
This world is a cosmic drama littered with tell-tale clues. The Protagonist, however, is hidden. Judaism is not so much a matter of belief; rather it is taking positive action to remove those forces that bring to disbelief. It's not difficult for a Jew to believe. We are all natural believers. We come from a long line of believers, all the way back to Avraham.
Every Jew has the indelible spiritual heritage of standing at Sinai and hearing the Ten Commandments. A Jew is a believer. All we need to do is to suspend our disbelief, the disbelief that comes from having bought into the Hollywood ethic, from living in a spiritual twilight zone - Tinsel Town for the soul.
This world is a stage set. It is no more that an impressive plywood facade propped up from behind. G-d is hidden in this world. He is hidden behind the stage set. The world is specifically designed to be something which conceals G-d. The Hebrew word for world is olam. Olam has the same root as the word ne'elam which means "hidden" or "vanished."
In other words, this world's name is "Concealment." Hashem has, so to speak, "vanished" from the play of life. He is hidden. He has retreated behind the curtains, behind the backdrop of the "natural" world. He has created a stage, an existence whose very name means concealment. But He is not difficult to find. There are telltale clues that He is alive and well (the survival of the Jewish People is a giveaway in itself). You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to track Him down.
We are the audience in this cosmic mystery. We are invited to suspend our disbelief, to remove the mask from this world and to reveal The Divine Playwright. And the more we choose to see G-d's hand in our lives, the more clear His hand will be. This is the purpose of Man in the world. To reveal and proclaim the existence of the Divine Playwright.
On Purim, we read the Scroll of Esther, the Megillat Esther. Megillat Esther has the connotation "lagalot et hahester - to reveal that which is hidden." The nature of a scroll is to reveal, bit by bit, as you unwind it. However, the name of the Megilla is strange. What does it reveal? There is nothing in the Megilla which seems in the slightest bit removed from the natural world. There are no open miracles. There is no prophecy of things to come. The narrative seems to proceed in an entirely natural fashion.
And yet, after we finish reading the Megilla, when we look back at the plot-line, we can see a progression of events which give the lie to its being merely a random sequence. We are invited to "suspend our disbelief" - to view those events as a most tightly woven drama in which not a single plot-twist is gratuitous.
The Megilla reveals that nothing in this world (whose very name is Concealment) is coincidental.
Maybe that's one of the reasons that we perform plays on Purim. We are saying that the world is no more than a grease-paint facade and that you have to look beyond. Even though life looks chaotic and frightening, it really is a Divine Drama.
That famous English actor retreated to the stage to find his security. To the Jew, nothing is random, nothing is frightening, except the awe of the Master Himself. A Jew sees every event as a development of the Divine Drama. Nothing is left to chance. No event is random.