Office of the Chief Rabbi

The Chief Rabbi’s Message for Pesach 5776

Education has always been at the heart of Jewish life and never more so than at Pesach. Socrates once sounded a fascinating note of caution about education, describing it as “the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” That is to say that while creative educational programmes at home, in school or in the community are important – if they have no long term impact on our lives, they have been of little value.

Pesach Sedarim are precious family gatherings that provide significant educational experiences. Hopefully, we leave our Seder tables better informed, often on an emotional and spiritual high.

‘There is every danger that our Pesach experiences, however impactful, will become a distant memory’

But, as with any educational experience, so much depends on the follow-up. There is every danger that our Pesach experiences, however impactful, will, in the course of time, become a distant memory to which we return only at further Sedarim in subsequent years.

Our Sages teach, “Lo Hamidrash hu ha’ikar, ela hama’ase” – Study is not the main objective, rather, the action that arises from it. Once empowered by greater knowledge, we have a responsibility to translate our deeper understanding into meaningful action.

At Pesach we learn the most central and powerful lesson of all – that we were granted the gift of freedom. But, the lesson itself is an empty one if we fail to embrace that freedom and take full advantage of it. We are blessed to live in a country that safeguards our religious freedom in strong and vibrant communities, with no limits on what we can achieve together.

‘each one of us is privileged to benefit from our freedom, which comes with a responsibility to make a truly positive impact on the world’

This Pesach, as we sit around our Seder tables, just before we wash our hands for the meal, we will read a passage which blesses the Almighty – “Asher ge’alanu vega’al et avoteinu” – Who has redeemed us and our ancestors?” It is a phrase which appears, at the very least, to be in the wrong order. Surely Hashem redeemed our ancestors before us. Why is our own redemption mentioned first and to what redemption is it referring? Our Sages refer us back to the passage in the Haggadah which points out that, in every generation, it is our duty to regard ourselves as if we had personally left Egypt. Taking this one step further, we recognise that each one of us is privileged to benefit from our freedom, which comes with a responsibility to make a truly positive impact on the world around us.

This year, when you reach that part of the Seder, please stop for a moment and make a commitment, either individually or as a family, for the year ahead. Commit to an extra hour every week of precious family time. Commit to a few hours every month, volunteering for the benefit of those who need our help. Commit to an hour of Torah learning every week. Commit to regularly performing one extra mitzva. Commit to helping people in Israel or on the other side of the world. Make a commitment so that at next year’s Seder, and every subsequent year, you can look back as a family and say:  This is how we have made the most of our freedom.

This year, let us guarantee that education will be accompanied by action and freedom by responsibility.

Valerie and all our family join me in wishing you all a chag kasher vesameach.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis