Having been accused of stealing the viceroy's goblet, Yaakov's children are brought to Yosef to be tried for their crime. Yehudah, as spokesman for his brothers, comes forward to plead their case. He begins by rehashing everything that had transpired to date. His opening remarks, however, deserve attention. Yehudah says,"אדוני שאל את עבדיו לאמר היש לכם אב או אח", my master had asked his servants do you have a father or a brother (בראשית מ"ד:י"ט). The probable intention of Yehudah was to paraphrase Yosef's question of whether their father was still alive (שם מ"ג:כ"ז). Yet Yehudah clearly states here that Yosef asked "היש לכם אב", do you have a father. Why? In addition, the very intent of the question is somewhat perplexing. Obviously, anyone ever born, save Adam and Eve, has a father. What could Yosef have meant?
Harav Joseph B. Soloveitchik suggested that Yosef did not mean to inquire as to whether Yehudah and company had a biological father. He actually wanted to know whether or not they maintained any loyalty to their father's teachings. He asked if they were dedicated to the Mesorah of Avraham and Yitzchak, transmitted to them by their father Yaakov, or if the שלשלת הקבלה, the chain of tradition, would end with Yaakov. To this question, Yehudah responds boldly "יש לנו אב זקן וילד זקונים", we have a father and a young brother (שם מ"ד:כ'). We indeed are the proud bearers of our tradition. We have not rejected the ideas and values of our father, and, more importantly, we are willing to transmit everything to a future generation. We stand ready to sacrifice ourselves on behalf of the ילד זקונים, the young child, who is representative of the future. Once Yosef was convinced that Yehudah had spoken with conviction and sincerity, he understood that the tragic episode of his own sale, indicative of a lack of concern for Yaakov and his future, was indeed something of the past.
The image of the אב זקן, the elderly father, and the ילד זקונים, the young child, also serves as the basis of our educational philosophy. It is our challenge to somehow bring alive the Mesorah of our Avos to a generation today. Our children must feel so comfortable and convinced of its beauty that they will pledge to transmit it further to another generation. Perhaps this is the intention of the practice on Simchas Torah, after every adult recieves his Aliyah, that the Gabbai says מי שברך את האבות הוא יברך את הבנים, may he who blessed the Avos bless the children. We generally assume the one giving the blessing here is Hashem. We may suggest על פי דרוש, however, that the מברך refers to the person being called to the Torah. Having completed another cycle of the Torah reading, this עולה has demonstrated his loyalty to the אב זקן, the tradition of the past. We thus pray that he also be able to be מברך את הבנים, and to show his commitment to the ילד זקונים, transmitting his values to the future generations.