The Seder night brings together Jews from all orientations and perspectives. The future redemption of the Jewish people, a theme which is central to the seder, is dependant on different types of Jews learning how to respect each other even as we may disagree. Sukkot which like Pesach commemorates the exodus and looks forward to future redemption also revolves around the theme of uniting the different segments of our community. The four species representing four very different types of Jews must be "waived" together and if any one is missing the mitzvah is invalidated. There can be no redemption without diversity.
The hagadah recognized that Jewish history can be celebrated only if the chacham and the rasha can sit together. No doubt these two siblings argue over who represents which child with each one claiming to represent the chacham . The authors of the hagadah were quite familiar with the fact that it is often difficult to discern evil. A cursory reading of their respective questions leaves one scratching one's head to figure out why one is labeled a chacham and the other a rasha . The difference between "What are the testimonies, statutes and judgements that the Lord our G-d has commanded you?"( Devarim 6:20) and "What is this service ( avodah ) to you?" ( Shemot 12:26) does not appear to be so significant as to label them polar opposites. In fact the use of the word avodah (service), which according to our sages is one of three pillars on which the world stands, would seem to indicate that we are dealing with a well meaning child. But such is the nature of evil that it often hides itself so well that when one finally realizes what one is facing it is often too late. Whether dealing with the dishonest businessman, the politician out for personal gain or the terrorist pretending to be a peacemaker we fail to recognize evil at our peril.
One could argue that the evil of the rasha and the righteousness of the chacham (a true chacham being one who embodies "The beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d") is not in their questions recorded in the hagadah but in their introduction to their questions. That this introduction, though recorded in the Torah, is not even included in the hagadah was our Sages way of teaching that often one has to scratch beneath the surface to discern evil.
Two differences in their respective introductions should be noted. The wicked child opens with the phrase "And when your children will tell you" whereas the chacham is introduced "When in the future when your child will ask ". The wise child asks and the wicked child tells. Often it is not what is said but how it is said. We must rejoice when a child asks why we need to observe mitzvoth, how can G-d "allow" evil or why be a practicing Jew in the modern world. Their interest allows us to engage them and discuss the eternal richness of our way of life. But if that same child states derisively, without waiting for a possible response, that mitzvoth no longer need to be observed, that Judaism is irrelevant in the modern world there is much to worry about.
The Torah's description of a wise child and wicked children is significant indeed. Unfortunately it is not always easy to be G-d fearing and the community of evil is much larger than the righteous one need look no further than the united nations for confirmation. Evil is fueled by a mob mentality, by the many immature children that inhabit our world. Things people would never do alone they will do when involved in a mass demonstration. It is no wonder demagogues love huge rallies which rile up the people against perceived enemies.
Yet a Jew must never be afraid to stand alone against the crowd to fight evil when necessary. Furthermore greatness can only be achieved by those unafraid to think differently, by those unafraid to be non-conformists. Many of our great Torah scholars were produced outside of the traditional yeshiva framework. Greatness may be stifled by the masses.
On pesach it is not only physical freedom we celebrate but psychological freedom as well. Slaves lose the ability to think clearly and independently. Oppressive regimes do not allow for freedom of speech or freedom of the press. They want to control our minds. Jews and Judaism embrace all forms of freedom. A zaken mamreh , rebellious elder who publicly defies an order of the high court (Sanhedrin) is only guilty if and when he acts and instructs others to act against the court undermining its authority. He is free however to declare and to explain to others why he feels the court is mistaken as long as he abides by its ruling in practice. Intellectual honesty is the hallmark of Judaism and we must never be afraid to think for ourselves.
The Jewish people from the time of Avraham haivri have often stood alone, like the wise child surrounded by the wicked children. "In the beginning our ancestors were idol worshippers" the hagada boldly declares. The greatness of Avraham is that he was unafraid to challenge the society around him, to declare the teaching of his youth false. We the Jewish people his descendants must courageously stand up for justice and righteousness.
May our love of freedom and moral excellence inspire the nations of the world to join us as we celebrate a redeemed world at peace. Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem , the city of peace. Chag Kasher V'Sameach .