From the Facebook page of Rabbi Mendy Lewis, Shliach in Old Tappan, NJ:
With the sad news of his passing last night at the age of 91, I an sharing two sketches I made of Reb Yoel Kahn obm, the Rebbe’s chief Chozer (oral-scribe). Reb Yoel was responsible for memorizing and transcribing thousands of hours of the Rebbe’s public discourses and lectures over the years.
I made the charcoal sketch on the right, when I was sixteen. The one on the left (from a more recent photo) was one of my first colored attempts on the Ipad after I returned home from the hospital following my COVID episode.
When I was 13, Reb Yoel visited London as the guest speaker at the siyum Harambam, a large celebration for the conclusion of one of the cycles of the study of Miamonedies.
I remember it being a very unique visit, for Reb Yoel rarely left the Rebbe’s side. From what I recall, he hadn’t traveled overseas for a speaking engagement prior to that visit.
Perhaps it was the night before the event. A small group of Chabad and other Chassidim had gathered in the synagogue hoping to hear a few words and farbreng with Reb Yoel.
When Reb Yoel walked into the room, naturally everyone stood up, but perhaps even more naturally, he gestured with his hands, as if to say, “for what reason do you grant me this honor?” and promptly left the room. He then went around to enter through another door and headed for the bookshelf where he remained, until his nephew was able to convince him to join the group.
The next night, the grand siyum took place in a large and packed hall. As Reb Yoel walked in, the crowd of hundreds stood up to greet him, I recall thinking to myself, “Oh no! He doesn’t like this. He’s going to walk right out.” This time, however, he walked straight through to his place in a very natural way.
I didn’t know much about Reb Yoel at the time, and I certainly hadn’t sat through any of his classes or read any of his writings, but I realized I had met a giant of a chossid.
The story is told that the second Chabad Rebbe, Reb Dovber, would encourage his followers to share chassidic teachings in the towns they’d pass when journeying to visit him.
One such Chossid approached Reb Dovber and asked for advice. He said that while he was successful in sharing words of chassidus and was even able to see the effect it was having on the listeners, it made him feel a sense of ego, of arrogance and superiority.
To which the Rebbe responded “An onion should become of you, but Chassidus you should continue to share.”
You see, when you cook an onion in the soup, while some enjoy eating it, the purpose is not to cook the onion, but rather to give flavor to the soup. One doesn’t usually cook an onion to eat on its own.
What I learned from Reb Yoel was, that when honor being bestowed upon me is only benefiting me, then I need to run from it. Hence the reason he left when it was a familiar crowd.
However, if the honor I receive brings benefit to others, then even if I become an onion, even if my ego may grow a little from it, I need to put that to the side and focus on my mission. This was Reb Yoel did the second night and something he dedicated his entire life to. To bring the Rebbe’s teachings to the world and prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach.