What Connects Moses and Esther? Imposter Syndrome

By Max Hollander

Let’s Talk About Masks

Masks are a major part of the celebration of Purim — but also the way we operate in the world. Depending on the social setting, masks are the things we hide behind to conceal our true selves for fear of rejection. Often, the use of masks in public spaces is out of an insecurity that deep down, we aren’t who people think we are — otherwise known as imposter syndrome

Impostor syndrome is the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success you have achieved in that area. (VeryWellMind)

Esther can be understood as someone experiencing imposter syndrome when she is called upon to reveal her identity to the king in order to save the Jewish people. Instead of embracing the task and believing in herself, she highlights the king’s apparent lack of affection for her and her inadequacy for the role of savior:

If any person, man or woman, enters the king’s presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law for him — that he be put to death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter to him may he live. Now I have not been summoned to visit the king for the last thirty days.

In response, Morechai offers Esther a realistic but motivational pep talk:

On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.

Mordechai is confident God will provide salvation one way or another, but he pushes Esther to consider the reality of her position in the royal palace and to see past her fear of rejection and failure. Contrary to what she may believe about herself, she is perfectly suited for the role she ultimately succeeds in performing.

There is an interesting parallel between Esther’s story of self-doubt and Moses’s. Moses also shows self doubt, constantly refusing to take up the mantle of savior. His experience of imposter syndrome and self-doubt is most striking in his complaint to God about the people. In the Torah, God tells Moses to tell the Jews they will be leaving Egypt:

But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.

Moses feels rejected:

But Moses appealed to יהוה, saying, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, me — who gets tongue-tied!"

The Torah tells us explicitly the Jews rejected Moses because of their own exhaustion, but Moses believes it was because he was lacking as an orator.

Both characters are thrust into a royal setting, made vulnerable to outside forces. And both are pushed to reveal their identities and compromise themselves by companions who believe they are capable of great things.

Revealing our true selves to the world can be frightening, but just as Esther and Moses showed, getting over that hurdle and sharing ourselves with the world can be a positive thing — for many reasons. We can see ourselves in the stories of Esther and Moses, as we still struggle with imposter syndrome today. As we each work to believe in ourselves and quiet the internal voices of doubt, we can strive toward reaching our potential, achieve relief and start healing:

Potential: The fastest way to realizing our potential is letting go of the things that are holding us back like our sense of being an imposter. Embracing our whole selves and living authentically can allow us to reach our potential rather than hide it behind a mask.

Relief: It is exhausting to live a life where we constantly worry about how we look to others. Letting go provides great relief. Of course, people aren’t always able to just “let go” and “move on”, and to do so will require work. What we must remember is the reward at the end of that journey.

Healing: We can't begin the process of healing until we allow ourselves to see the light of day with our authentic selves, and not through a mask that we wear.

This Purim, consider disposing of any masks you’ve been holding onto out of fear and releasing the burdens that come with them. It might not be easy; letting go is a lot easier said than done. But it is important to remember you are not alone and identify who your supporters are. You will have your community to support you, much like Esther had Mordechai and Moses had God.

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