The Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, recalls how as a young philosophy student at Cambridge, he traveled the world visiting great leaders. When he came to see the Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him what he was doing for the Jewish students at Cambridge. Having little to report, the young man sought to explain himself: “In the situation in which I currently find myself…” The Rebbe interrupted him and said, “No one finds themselves in a situation. You put yourself in a situation, and if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation.”

As the holiday of Passover approaches, consider the following question: Is the Jewish people essentially a free people who were once slaves, or are we by nature a tribe of slaves who were once freed?

This is not a word game or a matter of semantics. It’s a question of true identity. What is the essence of the Jewish people? Is our freedom conditional? Does the slavery of Egypt—the traumatic beginning of our nationhood—still cling to us and define us? Or was the freedom we were given with the Exodus absolute and eternal?

On the Seder night, we read from the haggadah: “It was not just our ancestors whom G‑d redeemed from Egypt; He redeemed us as well along with them.”

Ever since G‑d redeemed us from Egyptian bondage, chose us as His people and gave us the Torah, we were implanted with an intrinsic freedom—a freedom that transcends all conditions and circumstances. At the time of the giving of the Torah, G‑d endowed us with something of Himself. And just as G‑d, the Eternal, transcends the conditions of the world, so do His people.

Our continued existence over the past 3,300 years is testimony to this fact. It is said that the Prussian emperor Frederick the Great once asked his religious advisor for a proof of G‑d’s existence. “Your Majesty,” came the reply, “behold the Jews.”

But while G‑d’s watchfulness and providence have preserved us to this day, it is up to each of us to access our internal freedom and express it in the way we live. We might ask ourselves, as the Rebbe asked the young Rabbi Sacks: Am I defined by the situation I am in, or do I have the power to define my situation in this moment?

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory—whose birthday is on the 11th day of the month of Nissan, four days before Passover—made the idea of absolute personal freedom one of the hallmarks of his leadership. According to the Rebbe, there is no such thing as “I can’t.”

Yes, we must deal with the challenges of day-to-day life and the current economic realities. However, we cannot allow them to define us or divert us from what is truly important in life. As a free people, there is nothing in the world that can rob us of our ability to choose our actions—even our thoughts and moods.

May the spirit of true freedom permeate our lives this Passover and throughout the year, and may it carry us to the day when the entire world will know true freedom, with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.