Receive weekly insights from the Chief Rabbi
Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Pesach 2022

Share this article:

“Freedom is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to do what is right.”



At the Grammy awards this week, President Zelensky of Ukraine made a heartfelt appeal on behalf of his people: “I have a dream of them living, and free,” he said – “free like you.”

His words are a stirring reminder of how blessed we are in this country  to live in peace without the constant threat of military attack. However, there is more to real freedom than simply the absence of war and oppression.

Next week, Jewish communities across the world will celebrate Passover, which is the anniversary of the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. A festival rich in theological and historical significance, the Passover experience inspires us to appreciate and celebrate the full essence of freedom.

The American Theologian, Peter Marshall, described freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right. 

This outlook is reflected well in Jewish tradition, which uses two distinct terms for freedom. The first, chofesh, represents the absence of external restrictions on our choices. You have chofesh, for example, when you are enjoying a vacation. The second term, cheirut, represents the responsible use of one’s freedom to realise one’s full potential. A slave or a prisoner gains one type of freedom when they are released, but to achieve the freedom that comes with self-fulfilment is the work of a lifetime. 

The Passover festive meal commences with a declaration: “All who are hungry, let them come and eat with us. All who are in need let them come and share in our Passover experience”. We make this public declaration as the ultimate expression of freedom. Those who are enslaved to something can rarely think beyond their own immediate needs. Their next meal. Their next business meeting. Their next fix. True freedom is the ability to share what we have with others. 

In this spirit, right now, at the very time when tens of millions of Ukrainians are tragically seeking the freedom from misery, fear and an unknown future, it is inspirational to see so many who wish to use their own greater freedom to help them carve out  safe and happy futures. 

The Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist, Viktor Frankl, captured the essence of true freedom well when he recalled, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.” Even in the cruellest captivity there were some who thought of others. Now, that’s freedom!