The ‘Four Freedoms’ State of the Union address, delivered by President Franklin Roosevelt to the US congress, is one of the most significant speeches in democratic history. He sketched what he believed to be the absolute concepts of human rights: the first of which was ‘Freedom of Speech’ famously depicted by the American artist Norman Rockwell, based on an actual occurrence - in which a shy but determined and courageous workman was given the floor, despite his disputing the majority decision in a town’s meeting - an ultimate expression of democracy at work.
For centuries, civilizations were able to keep thousands of human beings in slavery, by blocking their access to education and knowledge. Tyrants and dictators knew that knowledge and speech were power - an ignorant person does not speak up - and silencing the people was the secret to domination. Take the former Soviet Union, where behind the iron curtain one was forbidden to express, or really even consider individual opinions, as these were seen to be a ‘security’ threat to the regime. Yet Jewish people throughout the USSR kept on meeting to learn about their heritage and their homeland - ultimately outliving the system and experiencing real freedom.
Every year the festival of Pesach encourages us to use freedom of speech; hence it is called Pe - Sach, literally meaning a speaking mouth.
From the outset, Pharaoh knew the key to keeping the Children of Israel in check. So that when Moses petitioned that his people be allowed to serve G-d, Pharaoh retorted: “Let the work be heavier upon the men… and let them not pay attention to false words” (Ex. 5:9) - let them not express different beliefs.
As the budding Jewish nation embarked on their spectacular journey out of slavery, they were instructed time and again to exercise their freedom to serve G-d by expressing it to the next generation: “And you shall tell your child…” (Ex. 13:8)
On Seder night one can proclaim one’s spiritual freedom by using the opportunity to ask questions and offer answers, to debate, analyse and discuss; exercising the power of speech to really live Pesach.
This year, why not seize the opportunity?