Answering The Transgender Son


An hour before Pesach last year, my 7 year old, who identifies as a boy, asked me: “Tatti, can you please call me Daniel?” (Editor’s note: Not the child’s real name, a pseudonym has been used to protect his privacy.) “Of course,” I answered, but that felt inadequate. My Haggadah doesn’t provide an answer for the daughter who asks to be a son.

When the Talmud can’t resolve a question it concludes the conversation with a declaration: “תיק״ו.” This word is an acronym for ת׳שבי י׳תרץ ו׳איבעיות ק׳ושיות, Tishbe will answer questions and inquiries. Tishbe is none other than Elijah the Prophet, who is called Eliyahu HaNavi, Eliyahu HaTishbe. There is a tradition that Elijah is also the author of the Haggadah. How might the great prophet help the father answer his child who asks, “Why am I different from all other children?”

In this world of pain, suffering, and darkness we oftentimes have many more questions than answers. God is hidden and yet we have faith. On the night of Passover we are transported to a future time when God is revealed and all is made clear; the night actually becomes day. Elijah, we are told, will be sent to usher in the messianic era. We open the door for him during the seder because in that moment we are already there. It is no coincidence that the song “Chad Gadya” at the end of the Haggada is written in past tense: “Then the Blessed One came and killed the Angel of Death” because on the seder night we already exist in a time when God has brought this to fruition.

On the night of Passover there is no longer tension. God’s unity and goodness is exposed and embraced. The song “?אחד מי יודע” “Who knows one?” teaches that one is HaShem. God is perfect, singular, and without division. The numerical value of אחד is 13, the same as the Hebrew word for love, אהבה. We find an awkward placement of the word  אחד preceding each of the four sons: אחד חכם ואחד רשע ואחד תם ואחד אינו יודע לאשול.

Our tradition teaches that here, the uniting power of love (13) comes to reveal that there is but one child, albeit with multiple contradicting parts. 4 x 13 is 52, the value of the word בן, son. It is not coincidental that Elijah, אליהו also has a numerical value of 52. He was given the covenant of peace, שלום, which also means wholeness.

3X אהבה, love, is 39, which is also the numerical value for my third son’s real name.

On the first day of Passover we say the prayer for dew. The Talmud tells us that the keys for dew were given to Elijah. Dew is emblematic of God’s loving kindness. Dew never ruins crops or inhibits travel; it emanates only goodness. The verse blesses us that the heavens shall drip with dew. Isaac blessed Jacob with this on the first night of Passover. Dew is a blessing.

I don’t know what the father should answer his child who asks “Why am I different from all other children? But Elijah the Prophet provides us with guidance for the תיק״ו of life. So when the son asks “Tatti, can you see me the way that I do?” Perhaps we should answer him: “I see you the way that God does: with complete love.”

Editor’s note: The name of the child has been replaced with a pseudonym for privacy.