Photo Credit: Jewish Press

“He draws and serves from his Rebbe’s teachings to others.”

On Thursday, 6 Av, Lubavitcher chassidim and the worldwide Jewish community suffered a great loss – the passing of the gaon and chossid R. Yoel Kahan. Reb Yoel was the Rebbe’s chozer (oral scribe) throughout all the years of the Rebbe’s leadership. The Rebbe also entrusted Reb Yoel with compiling and editing the Chassidic encyclopedia, Sefer HoErkim Chabad.

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The Rebbe said about Reb Yoel, “Doleh umashkeh mitoras Rabbo la’acheirim – He draws and serves from his Rebbe’s teachings to others.” To understand more clearly what the Rebbe meant, chassidim provided a parable:

There is a deep well of mayim chayim, life-providing water. Even a very thirsty person who wants to drink from the well cannot on his own reach the deep waters to quench his thirst. Only someone who is qualified and well-equipped can go down, draw from the water, and then serve it to the thirsty individual.

When he first brings the water up, it is in a pail or bucket. But that is too much water for anyone to consume at once, thus it must first be transferred into cups. Not everyone can drink from a big cup, and to some you must serve the water in what’s known in Yiddish as a kelishik, a small cup.

Sometimes, even that is too much, and you have to serve him the water with a spoon, as the American saying goes, “You have to spoon feed him.” There are various sizes of spoons, and sometimes a tablespoon is still too much for the person, so you need to put it into a smaller spoon, a teaspoon. When he can’t accept it even from a teaspoon, you must give it to him with a dropper. But not twenty drops at a time; at this moment, he can only take one drop, and that is what you have to give him. With time, you give him one drop after another, until you can begin spoon feeding him with a teaspoon, and then with tablespoon, and then with a kelishik, and then with a cup, and with time he will be able to drink by himself with a big glass.

In the spiritual sense, Reb Yoel was the one who was able to draw from the Rebbe’s “well” – the maamorim (deep spiritual discourses) and the sichos (talks) the Rebbe said on Shabbos, Yom Tov and at other farbrengens – and bring these teachings to the chassidim and to klal Yisroel. For some, who had already learned Chassidus for many years, he was able to “feed” these concepts with a large glass. For others, who did not have the intellectual or emotional capability to accept the spiritual “water” in a regular size cup, he had to use a kelishik. For others, he used a tablespoon or teaspoon. And for some, he would use a dropper.

Reb Yoel was the master who knew exactly how to make the Rebbe’s teachings accessible to everyone. There were chassidim who had learned a different form of Chassidus all their lives but were not yet exposed to the Rebbe’s teachings. To them, Reb Yoel taught the Rebbe’s sichos and maamorim on a sophisticated level.

At the same time, Reb Yoel was able to teach someone who was completely new to Chassidus, and even use a dropper, because the person was too young – either in years, experience or intellectual capacity – to receive more than that.

For sixty-five years, Reb Yoel was a mashpia (spiritual mentor) in Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, and he gave shiurim in many communities. Beyond that, Reb Yoel was ready to teach anyone who wanted to know something about Chassidus, no matter if he was a great scholar or a small child.

Whether he used a “glass” in the spiritual sense, or a dropper, Reb Yoel was there to bring the words of Chassidus to thousands and hundreds of thousands worldwide. If there is a place today where the Rebbe’s words and teachings have reached, it is thanks to the sichos and maamorim of the Rebbe that Reb Yoel committed to writing, and to the lucid explanations that he provided, to bring the Rebbe’s teachings to klal Yisroel.

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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at Lubavitchyouth@gmail.com.