The Mask

By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF

My friend, Herb, likes to get an early start. On the golf course, he stands 20 feet in front of the tee. When he eats out, he brings a drink from home so he doesn’t have to wait for a turtle-speed server to bring one. And as the months slip by before the High Holidays, he uses a similar philosophy.

Why wait for those awesome ten days to be engraved in the Book of Life? Why not a head start and begin in July or August to rack up mitzvah points? And Herb is no minor leaguer when it comes to mitzvahs. So, in early July he gives $25 to the Rabbis discretionary fund. Later in the month he skips the All Star game on TV to help the kids with their geography homework. He even passes on the Auburn/Tennessee game so he can visit his aging aunt in Memphis.

No sacrifice is too much to get a head start on those ten days of awe. He even takes his wife out for supper and I don’t mean kosher hamburgers.

Now, besides his own fate, he’s also concerned about his dear wife. Why not teach the same philosophy? No need to wait for Rosh Hashanah. She can begin this very morning. Instead of plain scrambled eggs for breakfast, she can show her bountiful love for Herb by adding sliced salami and onions to the mix. And better yet, take out the garbage (usually Herb’s job). A wife wheeling out a 100-pound garbage can to the street must be mentioned somewhere in the Talmud.

But the awesome and admirable thing about Herb is his concern for his wife. He shares his spiritual philosophy with her. Why restrict yourself to ten days? So little time to correct so many moral missteps since last Yom Kippur. If you only pretend to be good – go through the motions –an evil heart that simulates goodness is credible.

A great essayist/philosopher, Max Beerbohm, tells a fable: An evil man lusts after a fair and virtuous maid. But everybody knows he’s a world-class philandering louse. And besides this weakness of the flesh, he’s a dishonorable, lying, cheating, all ‘round nogoodnik. His reputation as a scum bag is so well known that even his naïve beauty of a target is aware of his evil heart.

So, how to seduce the object of his lustful attention?

Ah, he’s got it!! He’ll wear a mask – a mask that glows with goodness. He’ll also trick the world and even his creator. All who look upon him will admire the radiance of his false face.

He wears it so long and he wears it so well that his villainous nature turns saintly. His real face becomes the face of the mask. “The mask worn long enough becomes the man,” says Joseph Epstein, who tells us the Beerbohm fable. The ex-sinner throws away the now superfluous mask. It momentarily lies in the grassy meadow – then melts in the rays of the morning sun. Sometimes you become what you pretend to be.

And maybe that’s good enough.

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