Hidden and Revealed: Central Motifs of Purim

This resource deals with the motifs of things that are hidden and those that are visible in Megillat Esther (The Scroll of Esther) and how these motifs are expressed on Purim through costumes and masks.

Resource Ages: 9-11, 12-14


Esther did not talk about her people or her homeland because Mordechai had commanded her to not say anything.

Megillat Esther, 2:10

לֹא הִגִּידָה אֶסְתֵּר אֶת עַמָּהּ וְאֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר לֹא תַגִּיד.

Where is Esther found in the Torah? “And I will hide myself and I will hide my face.” (Deuteronomy 31:18)

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chulin, daf KL”T,  amud 1

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do I grow as a result of the Jewish calendrical cycle? 
  • How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?
  • How do values and tradition impact my Jewish practice?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • In what situations do we wear masks (literal or symbolic)?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of hiding/covering/concealing?
  • Why is it traditional to wear costumes and masks on Purim?

Background for Teacher

One of the central motifs in Megillat Esther is that of hester (hidden or concealed). Some say that this concept is implied in the name Esther itself, in that it is similar to the word hester, whereas the concept of galui (revealed or visible)...

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One of the central motifs in Megillat Esther is that of hester (hidden or concealed). Some say that this concept is implied in the name Esther itself, in that it is similar to the word hester, whereas the concept of galui (revealed or visible) can be found in the Hebrew word megillah

Many of the events in the megillah take place “behind the scenes” of the narrative. Moreover, there is a lot of information hidden from the characters, beginning with the plan secretly conceived by the king’s two eunuchs to assassinate him, continuing with Esther hiding her Jewish identity, and ending with Haman’s malicious plan – initially kept secret and eventually revealed to the king, with Esther’s hidden plan leading the way. 

Chazal (our Sages) noticed this motif, as well as another even greater mystery found in the megillah – unlike the rest of the books in Tanach, God’s name is not mentioned at all in Megillat Esther. Chazal interpreted the Biblical verse “And I will hide my face on that day” (Deuteronomy 31,18) as a hint to Megillat Esther and God’s hidden presence in the megillah – in that God influences the chain of events but is not outwardly seen. Some explain that God’s presence is expressed in the many coincidences seen throughout the megillah’s narrative, and that these coincidences are in fact the miracle of Purim. 

In the Hebrew verse the word for hidden appears twice. The Baal Shem Tov learned from this that the megillah contains a double concealment. Not only did God hide God’s face, but the characters and readers are not aware of the concealment. This expression hints at circumstances where something within us is hidden from us, and we ourselves are not even aware of its existence or that it is hidden. And so, on Purim we are invited to consider the hidden aspects in our lives – things that we choose to hide, things that others hide from us, and things that are not intentionally hidden but are simply not visible from the outside. 

One of the main customs of the holiday is to wear costumes or disguises, and this connects to the topic of concealing/revealing. On the one hand, costumes and masks allow us to hide our regular appearance, but they also allow us to show different sides of ourselves that may be more challenging for us to bring out in our everyday lives

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study

Show the students a few pictures in the style of “Find what’s hiding in the picture”. You can turn this into a competition and have the students participate in pairs. 

  • Ask the students what they felt when the hidden aspects of the pictures were revealed. Why is it so surprising to suddenly discover things we didn’t originally see in the picture? What helps us see and identify the hidden aspects in the picture? How do we react in our real lives when things we didn’t know, or were hidden from us, are revealed to us?
  • Explain that some events or situations in life are just like these pictures – not everything is revealed to us at first glance and we need to delve deeper and look closer in order to see what is hidden. The same goes for Megillat Esther; there are aspects that are hidden, some of which are revealed to us readers but not to the other characters, and some that also require us to look closer and examine further. 

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. The name Esther in Megillat Esther, is similar to the Hebrew word hester (hidden). What things are hidden in the megillah? The word megillah is similar to the Hebrew word gilui (visible/revealed). What things in the megillah are surprisingly revealed? 
  2. Some information and events in the megillah are known only to some of the characters and not to others. How does the hidden information influence the plot? How are things revealed? (You can use the What’s hidden in Megillat Esther  flip-cards showing examples of concealment in the megillah.) 
  3. Esther hid her Jewish identity in the palace. Why did she hide it? Did she have another option? Have you ever needed to hide important parts of your identity? Give some real-life examples (for example, hiding your Jewish identity; that you belong to a certain community or family; etc.) Why did you feel the need to hide your identity in those situations? How did you feel about needing to hide something? 
  4. The tradition of wearing costumes and masks on Purim is meant to hide certain things and reveal other things. What do you think costumes and masks hide, and what do you think they reveal?
  5. When you wear a costume, do you prefer to wear a costume that refects or is close to your regular identity, or completely different? Why? 
  6. Have you ever worn a costume or mask and subsequently acted differently? If so, how did the disguise influence your behavior? Explain how a costume or mask can lead to this kind of situation. 
  7. We don’t wear costumes or masks in our daily life, but we do other things to hide aspects of ourselves from our surroundings, or even from ourselves. What do people do to hide parts of their identity? Why do they do this?
  8. Why do you think people like to experiment with different identities and change their appearance or behavior according to these other identities?
  • Choose an example from the megillah of hiding or concealment. Rewrite the story with the headline: “What would happen if…” (For example, if Esther had revealed her Jewish identity at the outset; if Haman had told King Ahasuerus about Mordechai; if King Ahasuerus had himself found out about the plot to assassinate him; if King Ahasuerus had told Haman whom he wanted to honor; etc.) 
  • Esther hid a central aspect of her life from the king – the truth of her Jewish identity. Think about a situation in which you needed to hide an important aspect of your identity (for example, that you are Jewish; where you live; something about your family; etc.) Draw your two identities on a piece of paper. On one side, draw the “revealed” character and some identifying characteristics (using words or images). On the other side, draw the “hidden” character together with its identifying characteristics. Write beside the second drawing how it feels to hide things and why you needed to hide them. If you want, you can show the class both sides. 
  • Ask the students to think of three aspects or qualities about themselves that are hidden, or that they think are less visible from the outside. Have them think about a visual representation for these qualities  – animals, an object or item, a famous person, etc. Bring the students materials for making masks and ask them to make three masks that represent their hidden qualities. Then, when they wear their masks, others will be able to see aspects of them that are otherwise hidden. 
  • Ask the students to interview a person they know who has a story about hiding. (For example, a person who had to go into hiding for a particular reason; who had to hide part of who they are from their surroundings; who helped to uncover a topic unknown to the public; who had a secret, etc.)
  • Teach the students about babushkas (matryoshka or nesting dolls). Show the class a babushka doll, or a picture of one. Discuss how beneath each layer is another hidden layer, and that when it is revealed, there is yet another layer hidden beneath that. Choose an event in the megillah to demonstrate the idea of the babushka. Discuss what aspects of the story happen on the “outer” layer, what’s on the “inner” layer, and whether there are even more “inner” layers not revealed in the story. Compare the concept of the babushka’s layers to how we get to know ourselves or show ourselves to others. Hold a discussion about what it means to show things gradually: Is it better to remove all the layers quickly and at once, or to do so gradually? Why? Is it necessary to reveal our hidden sides? And if so, to whom? To whom do we choose to show the innermost doll, and to whom do we not even show the second doll? What are our conditions for revealing subsequent layers? Are there situations where it’s better to leave all the layers in place, and why? You can use the following  template for this activity.
  • You can expand further on the story of Megillat Esther.
  • If the students’ Hebrew is good, you can read the poem Bad Tiger, which raises the question to what extent costumes can change our self-identity, as well as the fantasy of dressing up in order to become someone else.
    If the students can’t understand the poem, you can translate it for them.

נמרה רעה/ ארלט ספדיה
אֲנִי רוֹצָה
לְהִתְחַפֵּשׂ לִנְמֵרָה רָעָה
כְּדֵי שֶׁפַּעַם אַחַת בַּשָּׁנָה
יִפְחֲדוּ מִמֶּנִּי כָּל הַיְּלָדִים
אֲבָל אֲנִי חוֹשֶׁבֶת
שֶׁלֹּא אַצְלִיחַ
כִּי אֶת הָאֹפִי הַטּוֹב שֶׁלִּי
לֹא יְשַׁנּוּ הַבְּגָדִים

  • Concealment/revelation in art:
    Art, by its very nature, often uses techniques of concealment and illusion to either express the artist’s ideas or intensify the power of their work. Every artistic work includes a choice of what to show and what not to show, and sometimes the question of what does not appear in the work is no less important than the question of what does appear. Examine some artistic works that use concealment, illusion or disguise. Discuss how this technique is used in each work.

Suggested works:

  1. The Son of Man; Man in a Bowler HatRené Magritte. Magritte often used concealment in his work. What do the concealed objects represent? What are they meant to conceal, and why? Sometimes the painting hides reality and shows it in a different way, and sometimes we are confused as to what is being hidden and what is being used to hide, such as in the painting The Blank Signature.   
  2. Mario Mariotti uses hand painting art to transform a useful, everyday body part into something completely different. 
  3. Salvador Dali liked to paint mysterious paintings that at first glance looked like one thing, but actually used various details to create something else. For example, in his painting Three Swans, the swans’ reflection in the water is actually three elephants. In his work Mae West’s Face, we see what looks like a room with armchairs, paintings and a fireplace – but when we look from a specific angle, we can see that they actually form a face.