Meet the four sons: the wise son, the wicked one, the simple son and the son who does not know how to ask. As one of the most engaging sections of the Passover Haggadah, the four sons represent the kaleidoscope of perspectives we all bring to the table.

Choosing who sits next to whom at that table is notThe four sons represent the kaleidoscope of perspectives we all bring to the table an easy task. There’s the varied personalities, diverging viewpoints and those always “interesting” family dynamics.

At the four sons’ Seder table, the wise son sits next to wicked.

On the face of it, it’s a strange choice. You would think that the simple son—or the one who does not know to ask—might sit next to the wise one. After all, though lacking in sophistication and cleverness, there appears to be a sincere interest in following the G‑dly path in those brothers.

This is in contrast to the wicked son, who demonstrates a mocking contempt for the Torah. That son does not want to involve himself in Divine endeavors. He does not want to be part of communal life. He is cynical.

Despite this, the placement of the wicked son next to the wise is intentional. No son is truly “wicked.” Yes, his behavior may be misplaced, even egregious. But his essence, his soul, is still G‑dly. The evil son sits next to the wise one because he is just one step away from him.

I think that’s worth repeating. The wicked son sits next to the wise son because he has more in common with him than not. The wicked son has the power to become just as erudite, just as “good” and just as content as the wise son, if he so chooses.

Can the wise son learn from his wicked brother sitting at his side? You bet!

For the wise son, the wicked son is a continual reminder that he must perpetually develop himself. There is no place for showmanship and self-aggrandizement in the life of the wise one. Why? Because one slip, one wrong move, could reorient his position as the “wicked” one.

Understanding the “wicked” and the “wise” has powerful consequences for our own lives.

Look to your side. Who is placed next to you at the Seder table, at the business meeting, at the restaurant, at school? Perhaps, if you are “wise,” yourThere is no place for showmanship neighbor is a bit edgy, somewhat hardened by a challenged life. He may feel alienated, out of sorts with society. Maybe he has pushed the ethical boundaries. Maybe he has cheated on his taxes, followed his heart into an illicit relationship. Maybe he has convinced himself that plagiarizing is not the worst sin in the world.

It’s so easy to push an envelope, and if not for vigilance and awareness, it’s even easier to fall prey to “minor” indiscretions—and even major ones. If you’re wise, you realize that you could just have easily make the wrong choices. You could have chosen the wrong fork in the road and dabbled in that which you have no business dabbling. Knowing that you, too, could become “wicked” is a humbling reality.

If you are “wicked,” you may encounter someone of strong character at your side. Perhaps they are able to apply their wisdom to help the world. Maybe they are responsible, and live lives of consequence and compassion. You could live that life, if you so choose.

But you may have to overhaul some entrenched life patterns. You may have to come to grips with the darker side of your personality. You may have to accept, let go and even surrender. But you have as much potential as your brother. You are one step away from being wise.

At the Seder table and beyond, the “wise” have a responsibility for those placed next to them. They have the ability to guide the “wicked” and help redress theirThe “wise” have a responsibility to those placed next to them ways. They have the know-how to demonstrate a different model of behavior. Fostering brotherhood, they can encourage others to be less estranged and alone. Alternatively, the wicked son needs to recognize who sits next to him. Through power of example, the wicked son is reminded of the power of change.

With effort, we have the potential to become wicked or wise. As sons—and daughters—we are just one step from one another. Turning to our side, we become one on Seder night.

(Adapted from the Lubavicher Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, Chag HaPesach, p. 247ff.)