Viktor Frankl, Passover, and the Meaning of Freedom
Taste the power of true freedom.
by Rabbi Yaakov Cohen
Passover. The holiday that celebrates what it means to be truly free.
But what is Freedom?
Victor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychologist, was a survivor of two concentration camps. When he was liberated in April 1945, almost everyone in his family had been killed. Based on his experiences in the camps, Frankl wrote the bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning where he describes man’s primary need for meaning as the key to living.
He writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing. The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
The Nazis took everything away from him; his clothes, possessions, his family. He sat there huddled in the cold barracks; starving, exhausted and heartbroken. He felt like he had nothing left. And then it hit him; the Nazis thought they had total command over him. That he had no freedom left. But there was one thing they could never take: his choice, his response. Frankl writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In that power, lies our growth and our freedom. ”
By realizing he maintained the power to choose, he clung to his humanity and dignity.
We do not have the freedom to choose the environment we are born into or the conditions we find ourselves in. But we always have the freedom to choose how to respond to any given set of circumstances.
We often make the mistake and think that others are responsible for our lives – our parents, our boss, our spouse, the community, the economy, or the president. We blame or make excuses – What do you want from me? I was born lazy…
In reality, I am the only one responsible for the success and failure in my life.
When we allow other people or situations to dictate how we feel, we give up our freedom and enslave ourselves. Freedom means recognizing that we are the ones in control, that we are responsible. As the sign on President Harry Truman’s desk said, “The buck stops here.”
This is why matzah is called the bread of freedom. Bread is just puffed up matzah… it’s water and flour full of hot air. The number one impediment preventing us from achieving greatness and living a life of freedom is our puffed up ego. Our ego distracts us and causes us to blame everyone else for our problems and failures.
This Passover, as you sit around the Seder table, ask yourself- what’s really holding me back from grabbing life by the horns and living it to its fullest? Where am I not taking full responsibility for my life? As you eat the matzah, break through the shackles of your excuses and taste freedom.