Viktor Frankl, Passover, and the Meaning of Freedom

Taste the power of true freedom.

Click here if you are unable to view this video.

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.

Comments (13)

(11) Anonymous, April 14, 2017 1:44 AM

Victor Frankel's "Man's Search for Meaning

Victor Frankel's book should be required reading for every high school student as it is powerful and Frankel's experience(s) remind us readers that what we have in Freedom is just that FREEDOM to think/solve as best as we can without losing sight of the goal(s) regardless the situation

(10) Shelly, April 13, 2017 5:28 PM


Viktor Franklin was a truly remarkable man! It is inconceivable that one could endure the horrors of the holocaust yet have such an impact on millions of people. Having accountability for ones attitude is almost unheard of in today's world. Imagine having experienced what he did and still know that he had control that the Nazis didn't! BRILLIANT! He was also the founder of logo therapy. In a nutshell, if a person knows the reason for his/her suffering and can find meaning in the suffering, one can endure almost anything. Happy Passover

(9) Sarah B, April 13, 2017 5:18 PM


I have no words to describe how much this video changed my life. Beautiful insight and motivational lesson. Please post more videos like this one. Absolutely fantastic!

(8) Sandi, April 13, 2017 12:45 PM

Wonderful! So true, thanks for sharing this reflection on life!

(7) Anonymous, April 13, 2017 12:29 PM

Thank you for highlighting Viktor Frankl. There is so much to learn from this great man, and how he overcame all he endured, while encouraging others through his writings and teachings.

(6) Saleh, April 11, 2017 9:00 PM

I like it

I like it its explain the logic of life

(5) Alexander Massey, April 11, 2017 2:57 PM

We are 'inter-responsible'

You say in the video: "I am the only one responsible for the success and failure in my life. <...> Freedom means recognising that we are the ones in control, that we are responsible." This is not an accurate reflection of Frankl’s philosophy; for him, the control we have extends only as far as our inner life, words and actions. We are not in control of external circumstances, or of what people say or do to us. We cannot engineer our future unilaterally – that would put us each in charge of the Universe! What we can do beyond the boundary of our own skin, bone and muscle is constrained by circumstances we cannot control. Interestingly, psychological research confirms that our thoughts and feelings can be influenced subliminally by what happens in our environment, especially over time. Emotionally and spiritually, I believe Frankl was saying something very important. Factually, even he himself was not quite accurate; we do not have complete autonomy over our inner lives. If we did, traditional Jewish teaching would not worry about our power to embarrass anyone (‘shedding our neighbour’s blood’), damaging someone’s reputation with lashan hara, or hurting someone’s feelings by telling the truth or rebuking them. Finally, we are taught that Jews are responsible for each other, and humans are responsible for each other; this suggests to me that your success or failure depends partly on me, and that mine depends partly on you.

(4) Nadi Ipp, April 11, 2017 9:12 AM


Thank you Rabbi for your impassioned and powerful focus on the links between Viktor Frankel, passover and freedom. I too use this in the work that I do. Upon reflection I wonder whether tempering the following strong statement would make sense to you? You write, 'In reality, I am the only one responsible for the success and failure in my life.' Is this not somewhat harsh? Can it not be used to blame others for their situation as if all they need to do is change their attitude and then their life will be successful? This statement can be used to justify the turning away from the value and virtue of chesed and it's companion tzedakah. I would like to refer to the virtues inherent in Ubuntu - "It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself. ... umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu - "a person is a person through (other) persons"" Would Viktor Frankel's explanations on Love and Success include your statement? Your statement is dangerous, precisely because you've made such a strong case for the choice to be free. Your context for external locus of control is well articulated, yet the empathetic link with the inner self of others is broken by the blame inherent in your statement. The degree of harsh circumstances that allows an individual to still hold their inner dignity, depends on having a powerful sense of self similar to Viktor Frankel's. Many humans though do not have this strong realistic esteem. Schools don't successfully prevent bullying and it's often subtle in workplaces and religious institutions. Racism is rife! Jewish people have often been victims of this, but the social group supports the individual. I hope you will temper your impassioned and powerful piece with the virtue of compassion - being present, a companion and holding the space with others as they inch toward the truth that - 'I am enough, but I'm not perfect, and THAT is okay'. And for those with the a strong realistic self esteem, modesty and humility are virtues to explore.

Rachel, April 13, 2017 9:58 PM

Thanks for this comment

I have a disability. I accept the fact that I cannot work, cannot drive,etc. I love life, my life,and the people in my life.

On the other hand, I do not have the power to change everything about my circumstances. I'm not complaining, but I resent the suggestion that if I just had more willpower, I could do things that others can do. One should use ones abilities, but it's cruel to suggest that everyone has equal pier to change their circumstances.

Pete, April 14, 2017 2:54 PM


I will not comment on anyone's personal lives, but, I will say that I believe you may have missed the core message of this video. You may want to watch again. He specifically repeated the notion that we do NOT have the freedom to choose our life circumstances or conditions we find ourselves in. When he said that we are each responsible for our lives, it was in the context of the main theme, which is, that we are responsible for how we RESPOND to the circumstances. Our responsibility lies in how we deal with and respond to the challenges we face.

(3) Anonymous, April 11, 2017 1:50 AM


Thank you for all of your meaningful content. This is the best I have seen yet. Not only was I inspired, but, every friend I sent this to said it made their week! I will never see passover the same again. P.s. I just purchased the book that your rabbi spoke about. Cant wait to read it!

(2) JD, April 10, 2017 8:53 PM


(1) Elsie Burgos, April 10, 2017 3:57 PM

Great and have fun viewing


Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment

Receive Weekly Calendar and Holidays Emails

Sign up to our Calendar and Holidays Newsletter.

Our privacy policy