Next weekend Jews around the world commemorate Shabbat Ha-Gadol (the Great Sabbath). Traditionally, it was one of two Shabbats that the rabbi would give a sermon. Now we work them harder. The rabbis would speak about the laws of the upcoming Passover Festival, the story of the freeing of the Israelite Slaves and the Exodus from Egypt. They would reiterate the importance of the concept of freedom and how we should utilise it to chose a path of moral responsibility and do good in the world.
At a time when populist movements and extremist groups want to deny others who are different to them their liberty, their lives or both it is important to reiterate shared societal values that bind all of us together. Today these values are the right to life, liberty, the rule of law, social justice and democracy, of promoting equality of opportunity and good community relations,. They are the foundation stones of the society we have built together enabling economic, scientific and social advancement.
Indeed, we need to scrutinise the philosophy of those wishing to do away with these freedoms whether they are populist politicians or political or religious extremists – and WE need to find the confidence to celebrate our shared values and humanity with pride.
Twice a year, the rabbi would speak: and on one of those days he would do so before our festival of freedom. If you are only going to speak up once in a while I can’t think of too many better themes than that of on freedom.