Yehudah begins his plea to Yosef to spare Binyamin, "My lord asked his servants, 'Do you have a father ...?" Yet Yosef never asked the question in precisely that fashion. Everyone has a father. Rather the Torah is hinting to a basic distinction between Yosef and his brothers.
Yosef truly had a "father:" The image of Yaakov Avinu was so powerfully etched in his consciousness that even far removed from his father's home, the image of Yaakov appeared to him and enabled him to overcome temptation in Potiphar's house. But when the brothers sold Yosef, the image of their father, whom they had just recently seen, failed to guide them.
Unfortunately, many yeshiva students today have never experienced a close relationship with an adam gadol (great man), and have no image constantly before them that elevates them and provide strength in moments of weakness. Many do not even know what they are missing. In their immaturity, they have come to view consulting with someone wiser and more experienced, as a sign of weakness and lack of independence. When asked for the name of a rav to whom they are close, they cannot name one.
Not long ago, I was speaking with a top yeshiva bochur in one of Israel's most prestigious yeshivos. I asked him, "Do you have a rebbe?"
"Would you like a rebbi?"
"Are you doing anything about finding a rebbi?"
"There is no one to be a rebbi today."
That last comment, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, suggests a failure to even appreciate that something vital is missing. Had the bochur understood how important the guidance of someone steeped in Torah could be for him, he would have searched for that guide.
A young avreich decided to make a major change in the form of his learning. An older avreich, who had only the most tangential relationship with him, somehow heard of his planned switch and asked him with whom he had discussed his decision. The younger avreich admitted that he had not discussed his decision with any one, and added that he had no one with whom to discuss it. Fortunately for the younger man, the older one agreed to talk over the issue with him "b'makom sh'ein ish."
The perception that there are no figures to serve as advisors today is well wide of the mark. But it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who have never submitted to another's judgment or sought the opinion of someone more experienced when confronted with challenges or important life decisions will never be able to positively influence others.
I have a number of friends who developed close relationships with Rabbi Matttisiyahu Solomon when the latter was a young mashgiach in Gateshead Yeshiva. Three of them run major institutions today, and their advice is sought daily. Even the baalebos in the group is the type of person with whom one would be well-advised to discuss any difficult decision. Each of them still consults with Rav Mattisiyahu when they find themselves in tough life situations.
The only reason that they are such capable ba'alei eitzah today is that they had the experience of analyzing and talking out difficulties with someone wiser than themselves on a regular basis, and observed how he analyzed issues and helped the recipients of his guidance understand and internalize it.
To be a mashpiah – someone capable of positively influencing others – one must first be a mekabel (a recipient). Rav Menacham Mendel of Vitebsk writes on the verse, ". . . the testimony of Hashem is trustworthy, making the fool wise," that the words of Torah only make wise one who first recognizes that he is a pesi (a fool), i.e., one lacking in knowledge and understanding.
LONG BEFORE today's yeshiva bochurim are in a position to influence others, they will face numerous situations in which they need guidance. Too often it is either unavailable or unsought. In the larger yeshivos, it is quite possible for a bochur to enter shidduchim without ever having discussed with a responsible talmid chacham who knows him well what he should be looking for in a wife and how he can discern those qualities.
Even with respect to such lower level technical questions as – How does one talk to a girl? How does one present oneself in a way that one's good qualities shine forth – many yeshiva bochurim find themselves relying only on such tidbits and clues as can be gleaned from friends who started the process a few months before them. Many of the "tips" so gathered will prove not only useless, but harmful.
One of leading younger (i.e., mid-50s) talmidei chachamim in Eretz Yisrael told me recently that the kollelim are filled with talmidei chachamim of considerable stature in their 40s and 50s for whom there are simply no positions as maggidei shiur or dayanim. They have no one to whom to give over the Torah they have acquired by virtue of decades of intense study.
A relationship with an older rav who takes an active interest in a talented young bochur and makes sure that he prepares and gives over chaburos on a regular basis can be the difference between that bochur becoming a maggid shiur one day and never having the opportunity.
For many young avreichim the future seems to stretch ahead as one endless expanse. A relationship with an older talmid chacham can be crucial in establishing concrete goals and in deciding when it is time to apply one's Torah learning outside the context of kollel.
I'm pushing sixty and most of my major life decisions probably lie behind me. I can certainly rejoice in the blessings with which I have been showered. And yet the development in recent years of close relationships with two people steeped in Torah and rich in life experience has transformed my life for the better.
If that is true of one of my years, how much more so is it true for our sons. They need "fathers."