Photo Credit: Jewish Press

We previously discussed the special qualities that Reb Yoel had. We mentioned the fact that the Rebbe said about him that he was “Doleh umashkeh mitoras Rabo la’acherim” (that he draws and serves from the teachings of his Rebbe to others). We spoke of his personal genius, that he served as the Rebbe’s chozer, was the chief editor of the Chassidic Encyclopedia and so on.

There is another dimension to Reb Yoel, and that is his spiritual personality. In this world, people have all kinds of interests because they are human beings with natural instincts and desires. These interests include food, drink, comfort, money, and so forth. Reb Yoel was not drawn by any of these. On the surface, he looked just like everyone else. Nevertheless, he did not live a physical life; he lived a spiritual life. What mattered to Reb Yoel was none of the above. What mattered to him was only the Rebbe, chassidus, and how he could bring more people to start learning chassidus.


When Reb Yoel was a young man he would sometimes lock himself in his room on Thursday nights and “tracht chassidus” (think chassidus – the expression used for deep personal thought in chassidic concepts) for the entire night, between him and himself.

His life revolved around hiskashrus, his connection to the Rebbe and to what the Rebbe wants. It could be said that the great success Reb Yoel had in being a mashpia, a mentor in chassidus, was not only the fact that he was the preeminent scholar who understood everything very clearly, and therefore was able to transmit it to others. Perhaps there is another dimension – that he was a dugma chaya, a living role model, of a “chassidisher Yid.”

The people with whom he was in contact, the people to whom he taught chassidus, saw in front of them a Jew who lives in this world, but is higher than this world. Whose needs and wants in this world were only spiritual.

Reb Yoel taught more than two thousand chassidus shiurim in Heichal Menachem in Boro Park. That is in addition to the daily shiurim he delivered in the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva where he was a mashpia. He would also learn chassidus with countless individuals on a personal basis. Those individuals are eternally grateful to him.

There was a bochur who learned in “770” with whom Reb Yoel would learn chassidus for several years every Thursday night from about 12 a.m. to six or seven in the morning. There were many individuals like that with whom Reb Yoel learned and cared for personally. With G-d’s help and Reb Yoel’s work, these people grew up to be wonderful chassidishe Yidden.

If you would ask what Reb Yoel wanted, the answer would be for more people to learn a maamar of the Rebbe or a sicha of the Rebbe, and follow the Rebbe’s advice.

Reb Yoel was once interviewed, and at one point the interviewer asked, for whatever reason, how he managed financially. Reb Yoel responded very simply that he doesn’t know; you would have to ask his wife, Rebbetzin Leah.

May Reb Yoel, as he did in this world, continue to spread the light and beseech Almighty G-d to send us the geula ha’amitis v’hashleima, teikef umiyad mamash, the immediate true and complete Redemption.


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at [email protected].