A Mask For Privilege

Tuesday, 6 October, 2020 - 10:05 pm


שקופים אטומים: חלק א'

A Mask For Privilege

Rosh Hashanah 5781

by Mordechai Zev Hecht

In the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch HaRav) Section 301,16, a section of laws referring to carrying in a public domain on Shabbos, it is written:

“One does not go out with an Ankotmin - and this is a type of donkey costume that performers wear and it looks like one is riding it as one wears it and walks with his feet.”...[ there is an opinion in the Gemora, Rashi, who says it’s actually a form of mask].

“One also does not go out with Farmi - a mask that has artwork on it that one wears on their face to frighten children. Masui Heim - they are a burden and they are not considered clothing or jewelry [and not allowed to wear it on Shabbos in public domain]...if you did however go out with it on Shabbos you are potur - relieved, because this is not the way of going out for most people”


If one were learning the laws of shabbos one would learn this and keep moving along, paying little attention to this law. One would even most likely wonder why it’s even in the code of Jewish law as quite practically no one in the Western world ever does this, surely not on Shabbos. This is clearly more for the street performer or clown in a circus etc. or at best something worn on Purim. And we all know that Purim which falls on Shabbos is postponed to Sunday, etc. so practically we’re not wearing it ever on Shabbos now-a-days.

However, reflecting on this law in light of Covid, if you pay attention, this law glows in the dark, like an ancient hidden holographic.

Who would ever imagine in their wildest imagination that in the 21st century the question of wearing a mask and on Shabbos would ever arise?

The answer?! No one!

Yet here we find a 2,000 year old law sitting quietly and patiently to be rediscovered, explored, and perhaps considered and reapplied once again.


A Mask for privilege

I recently found an old book in the library entitled: A Mask for privilege - by Carey McWilliams, 1948. An encyclopedic book about a farm-boy gone businessman gone writer. This book addresses the analysis of anti-democratic practices that affect the whole fabric of American life, not only for Jews but for all minorities.

The name alone caught my attention, “A Mask for privilege” obviously so, considering all the insanity and deep concern for human life - and the now infamous - mask.

On page 187 he lucidly writes with no bars pulled:

“The crack-pot anti-semitic propagandist is compelled by the nature of his task to exaggerate.”

Furthermore, he writes: 

“ expose the emptiness of anti-semitic propaganda and it’s lack of programmatic content is therefore largely a meaningless undertaking...however, he goes on to say: how can we not address this, to be vague about it would be fallacious as “the effectiveness of this propaganda was the chief thing which altered the attitude of the masses.”

He goes on to list names of people in the 30’s and 40’s like Pelley, Joe Jeffers, Smith, Joe McWilliams etc. who for years “weren’t taken seriously” the ultimate reason for their successes in Germany and the world as they, these “crack-pot anti semites, had the covert backing and support of powerful and respectable behind-the-scenes-elements.”

On page 137 he further notes, as one of many such examples of discrimination, that in 1946 the decreased enrollment in vocational schools was due to discrimination etc. and how “Dr. Albert Sprague Coolidge of Harvard University testified before a Massachusetts legislative committee that: “we know perfectly well that names ending in Berg, Stein, etc. have to be skipped by the board of selection of students for scholarships in Chemistry.”


Reawaken a consciousness 

When Covid, the Corona Virus pandemic hit us we thought that the worst was upon us, it was horrible, no need reminding us, but what came after that was like the mold we find after the clean up from the flood ensues.

The riots across America, something we haven't seen in decades, if ever. Police stations burning! The National Guard on city streets across America. Terrifying for many of us. Numerous people lost their lives and livelihood because of it. NYC was a ghost town for weeks. What Corona didn’t take - the Riots did. Was it necessary is the question we all ask. Were the protesters gone rioters warranted?! I’ll let you answer that Question.

I just want to ask one question which I believe perhaps we can all answer and this is, what is the lesson in it for us?

I believe everything that happens in the world, based on the teachings of the Holy Baal Shem Tov passed down to us by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his pure and holy ancestry is to: Reawaken a consciousness in us. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. 

When Covid hit us we began to plan and activate and execute everything we knew to fight the virus. We visited the drawing boards, the science labs. The human psyche and the human condition were tested to the max and we needed to truly dig deep and find our strongest selves in order to practically survive our struggle.

The irony in all this was, that at home, in isolation, we took off our masks, We could no longer hide from ourselves. The only people we could and were able to face - were ourselves. Home alone if you wish.

If we survived alone, with our closest few and we were visibly and practically in good company of sorts then we were blessed. And if when we were in isolation we discovered how lonely we really are on the inside and how truly moldy we are, well then we too are blessed.

The reason we are blessed in that finding as well is because, what we didn’t notice about our true inner selves, oneself, on our own, G-d helped us discover by force.

The riots that ensued during and post the Pandemic here in NY and the US was the inner struggle oozing out. It is the inner mold surfacing. What happened was the Pandoras box effect if you wish. 

The “crack-pot’ anti-semites” will always be that. Yet, perhaps laying dormant in all those riots was indeed an innocent voice in the protest trying to truly surface and to show how America truly has work to do on its biases and its Anti Semitic nature and culture. I wish you could recall the weeks prior to the Pandemic with shootings etc. in Synagogues across America and our great investments in security etc. No doubt, collectively, America has much of an accounting to make, introspection, and reflection on its demographics and inner culture and subculture, which G-d willing will produce great results in due time, if not immediately than hopefully gradually. 


The world is a mask

You see the world by nature is called Mask. Olam- world in Hebrew - means concealment. 

Our job is to remove the mask. Rosh Hashanah is the Birthday of man and man is tasked with Tikkun Olam - removing the proverbial mask of our individual selves and the world at large.

Our job is to bring to the surface all the hidden goodness and light. We are not allowed to hide in the mask. The mask is not one of privilege, but one strictly of survival.

Quite frankly, we are commissioned by the call of G-d and now perhaps the call of the shofar - to remove it.

Masui Heim - It’s a Burden

Perhaps what the code of Jewish law here is actually saying is: Masui Hem - the Ankotmin and the Marfi are a burden, for the wearer and as we now understand it - for the world at large. It's practically frightening - not only to a little child but to us all - the children of G-d - lest we forget this.

Our prejudices and our biases and our hatefulness are masks and it’s not the true “me”, and “I” and “we”, collectively. It’s what we would deem muktzah to carry out on Shabbos - it’s profanity in light of holiness and ‘not worn by most’. You wore the proverbial mask till now?! Potur - You are relieved of this burden, you are Forgiven! But henceforth - rid of it! 

Time to be truthful, to yourself, the world, and ultimately G-d. 

Sure we need to be careful and keep somewhat of a guard up, but you see we don’t need to hide the Steins and the Bergs anymore. We’ve evolved and developed as a society. America has learned how to be good to us, lest we forget the lessons of history however.

Cure for man, cure for the world

We don't need to reinvent the wheel or the world but every so often we need to revisit the underpinnings of a moral society which is the same ethics and values for a moral and ethical ‘self’.

Perhaps Rosh Hashanah is this exact recipe. If we wouldn't take accounting once a year and proceed with a thorough cleaning we would never address the ‘inner mold’ and the inner “crack-pot” that needs addressing, removal, and cleaning.

Now, I know, I gather you don't like the word ‘crack-pot’?! 

But what is it about it that you don't like?! You know in the Talmud we have a saying:

“One does not sin without a spirit of Folly - Ruach Shtus - that enters oneself”

This Ruach Shtus - Rabbi Shtainzalts - Even Yisroel OB”M calls the inner moment of ‘Insanity’, I propose we call it the ‘inner crack-pot’. 

The part of every single one of us that convinces us that our genuine wrongs are genuine rights. 

In the words of the Rebbe Rashab, the: “I’m still a Jew regardless complex”.

When in a moment of light and truth we know this to be the farthest from the truth. Perhaps what allows us to foster these disingenuine truths is as simple as our colleague in arms, albeit no sage or even a Jew - Mr. McWilliams said it: ‘it is because they are supported by staunch supporters and gone unchecked.’ 

Time to remove the mask

Rosh Hashanah 5781 we remove the mask, the proverbial one and G-d willing soon the physical one, and we address our inner truths, truthfully and responsibly….

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