Every Son Needs a “Father”

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 rebbi?”

“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.”

Mishpacha Magazine, December 23 2009

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8 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Agree, except I called him Abba as in shma bni nussar avicha – unfortunately this model seems to have been devalued in the last generation, imho at great cost.

  2. Garnel Ironheart says:

    While I appreciate RYR’s points, I would strongly disagree on one fundamental thing: the strongest father-figure in any Jew’s life should be – wait for it – his father. Not a rebbe, not a mashpia, not a mishgiach but the man who has known him all his life and knows him better than any other should.
    My father never liked the mishnah in Bava Metzia about how if you can only save one person, your rebbe or your father, you save your father. He always wanted to know: what kind of father goes and lets another man be a more important figure in his son’s life than him!?
    Perhaps this is something that needs to be touched on. Do we fathers do enough to be the “Rebbes” in our sons’ live?

  3. Nathan says:

    A Rebbe who offers guidance to students must know more than Torah.

    He must also possess a detailed, intimate and accurate knowledge of the people he is trying to guide.

    When shadchanim try to match single people they know almost nothing about, the singles feel that the shadchanim are wasting there time by suggesting innappropriate matches. No matter how smart the shadchan is, no matter how noble his intentions, he has little reason to expect success when he matches people he knows very little about.

    The same thing is true for a Rebbe. No matter how smart the Rebbe is, not matter how much Torah he knows, he can not offer true guidance except to people thet he knows very well.

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I think there is a common thread between this subject and the much-discussed shidduch crisis. The men who have trouble or aren’t really looking for a rebbe, or a serious, deep, ongoing life chevrusa and those who are not really serious about a shidduch are all stuck in the search for world-class perfection and not being able to settle for less. Media bombard you with the most beautiful, but Torah media also, on a lesser scale, bombard you with the wisest and the sharpest and the biggest tzaddik. The local community rav has had his stature greatly devalued by the world-class phenomenon. When you have a shaila in halacha or want to hear a shiur, it’s either the gadol hador or nothing. Since you know how much everything has gone down over the years, and since most people don’t encounter a great man on a day-to-day basis, it becomes the latter. Since the gedolim of the yeshiva world aren’t online and many thousands would like to hear them, talk to them and ask their advice, the foot-soldiers of the Torah world shrug their shoulders and go on like automatons chewing Shas and poskim with little or no direction. Sometimes it’s even worse. A young bochur says, my rav or my magid shiur is so great, so wise, etc. An older guy tells him how naive he is and there are much greater in the world. Rav Ploni is nothing, forget about him. It’s not true. Who do you think you are that you can’t learn from someone, almost anyone on some level? Some musar is needed here.

  5. tzippi says:

    Maybe I’m not a father so I don’t have such a visceral reaction, but how about another option: the student’s mentor working in partnership with his parents?

  6. joel rich says:

    aiui that gemara is referring to a rebbi muvhak- a teacher who has taught that student the majority of his torah knowledge(extremely unusual today), otherwise father first is the rule here, and for respect.


  7. K R Heckert says:

    Garnel is right – the strongest father-figure in a person’s life should be the father – and he should share the role of baal eitzah with his ezer k’negdo – the boy’s mother. We send our boys away at fourteen to live in a dorm with other fourtenn-year-olds, let them come home one Shabbos a month, and then wonder why they have trouble connecting with a parent-figure, and later on have trouble forming a relationship with a spouse? Worse yet, we tell them that they are real bnei Torah, who know the Gemara, and the old man just doesn’t measure up to today’s standards, so don’t bother with his opinions. Only a Rosh Yeshiva is good enough. (I’ve heard bochurim openly correct their own fathers over the Shabbos table. I cringed, but the fathers just accepted it as if it were routine.)

    The father knows his children on a day-to-day basis, provides a role model in all the details of day-to-day life, and demonstrates how being a father/husband/ben Torah is actually lived. Does the bochur see his Rebbe at the supper table? Helping his wife get ready for Shabbos? Giving up a bit of well-earned rest when he gets up after dinner and goes out to a shiur? Keeps his temper when the car breaks down when he’s late? The father is there for those small but important questions every day, and therefore he will be trusted when the questins are not so small.

    You want to know how we got the youth rebellion of the Sixties? I was there, I’ll tell you. It was sending the kids away to college where we had in effect to raise each other. Of course, we also outnumbered the grownups (my high school had 3,000 students). I was lucky – I could talk to my mother (my father was niftar) but most of my friends couldn’t. They were stuck in the “youth culture.” In the frum world we have created the moral equivalent of the Sixties – teens without available parents. Kids can’t raise each other, or themselves. They need parents to raise them on a daily, constant basis. Rebbes won’t do. Even Roshei Yeshivah won’t do. Only the father and mother themselves will do (and not just one Shabbos a month.)

  8. tzippi says:

    R’ Heckert, you have a good point. Rabbi Orloweck, among others, has gone on record saying that if a boy has a healthy home atmosphere, he should stay in town for high school, even if the local school isn’t the perfect fit. (Of course we’re not talking about an untenable situation.)

    And coming home once a month? Not bad.

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