05 Jun An Exclusive Interview with Maggid & Mohel Rabbi Paysach Krohn
Few writers and speakers inspire like Rabbi Paysach Krohn. Author of fifteen books, including his famous “Maggid” series of short stories, Rabbi Krohn travels around the world inspiring audiences with tales that stimulate the heart and soul. Rabbi Krohn is also a fifth-generation mohel and, at 21, was the youngest person ever to be certified by the Brith Milah Board of New York. This is the second time Ari Hirsch had the opportunity to interview the very busy Rabbi Krohn.
What do you consider your specialties?
Milah, writing, and speaking.
How many years have you been a mohel?
More than forty, Baruch Hashem
Why did you become a mohel?
I started when I was twenty-one. My father unfortunately had a terminal illness. I took over in June before he passed away in October, Shemini Atzeres of 1966. I was supporting my mother and younger brother and sisters.
How many brissen have you performed over the years?
I do not count them, but there have been Baruch Hashem thousands.
Do you have a favorite “mohel” story you can tell us?
Well, there are so many, but one of my favorites is one that I did in West Point. The mother was not very interested in having the bris done, but Mrs. Schwartz, who’s husband, Dr. Billy Schwartz from Monsey was a doctor at West Point during the Vietnam War, convinced this mother to have a Bris performed on her son. The mother was very upset about it and wanted a doctor standing over me while I did the bris on Shabbos.
Mrs. Schwartz only had one child and wanted more. I gave her a bracha after Shabbos that in the zechus of convincing this mother to let her son have a bris, she would have another son. Within a year, she did indeed give birth to another son. We did the bris in the Captain’s quarters At West Point. Rav Moshe Tendler was there and he spoke magnificently about what it means to be a soldier in the army of Hashem.
Who taught you how to be a mohel?
I am a fifth generation mohel. I was very close to my father and he always wanted me to learn milah. He felt that if I would do so by accompanying him, then I would always have a choice as to whether I wanted to be a mohel or not. So in the summers I would come along with him and if there was a Shabbos bris I would walk with him as well. Then unfortunately when he got sick in 1965-1966, I went with him everyday and by June 1966 I was doing brissen myself.
Have your sons continued as mohels?
Yes, my son Rabbi Eliezer Krohn is a mohel in Passaic and my son-in-law Rabbi Ephraim Perlstein is a mohel in Far Rockaway.
This past Shabbos you were in Marine Park. Can you please tell everyone about your Shabbos?
I’ve been in Marine Park numerous times for Shabbos. Reb Shea Rubenstein, who runs the JCC in Marine Park, arranged for me to come. He is the most incredible human being! He has a Mazon program where people donate five or ten dollars a week to the fund and the funds then gives it to the grocers in the area. People can buy whatever they want and they are told the credit they have in that particular store. The money is never given to the people directly. It’s done with kavod so they have a certain amount of credit and they can go to grocery stores and buy whatever they need. Shea is the one who arranges that. They have many scholars in residence throughout the year which he organizes, as well. I happen to be one of them and I usually stay at his home.
The four shuls that I spoke at were Rabbi Goldstein’s shul, Rabbi Eichenstein’s shul, Rabbi Rokeach’s shul, and Rabbi Mendelson’s shul. At each shul there were both men and women and different topics were discussed. One topic was making every day count, a second was jealousy, the third was bringing out the best in your life, and the fourth was bringing Simcha into your life. Baruch Hashem they were well attended. For Mincha I went into a Sephardic shul to daven and surprisingly it was my cousin’s son who was the Rav there, Rav Eliyahu Aboud. He’s a young Rav and It was thrilling to see him and speak for him. His mother, Leah Ackerman, and I grew up together in Williamsburg.
She married a sephardic fellow who learned in Tesleh Cleavelend, Rachamim Aboud and is a great Talmid Chacham.
Two weeks ago you visited Ohel on Ave M. How did that work out?
Malkie Einhorn from Ohel called me and told me that she reads some of my stories to the clients there and they really enjoy them. She
asked if I would come and speak to them. So I went into Brooklyn and was there for about a half hour. It was just so heartbreaking to see the clients and the different challenges that they have. I just was marveled at Ohel’s staff and how they’re so dedicated. It was very special to me and I hope it was special to them.
How did you come up with the idea of writing the Maggid series?
I always enjoyed writing, even in high school. My mother was a great writer and taught me how to write. I used to write stories for the children’s magazine “Olomeinu” put out by Torah U’mesorah and then I wrote articles for the Jewish Observer. I wanted to write Jewish stories, but there was no real outlet. Then in 1976 Artscroll came out with Megilas Esther and sold tens of thousands. I knew Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz from Camp Agudah, and I approached him to ask him if I could write one of the chamesh megilas. He told me they were going to write that themselves, but if I wanted to write something else, they would edit it. My original thought was that I would write Mishlei, but I realized that it was too overwhelming because every pasuk is a sefer in itself. But then when Artscroll started publishing books on various topics, I approached them and asked if I could write on the topic of Bris Milah. They asked me to present a chapter, which I did after working on it with my mother. They liked it very much and said they would be willing to publish a book on the topic. They wanted a book that was thorough and covered every topic oner could think of related to bris milah. I worked on the book for 2 . years and it came out in 1985.
It’s been reprinted many many times Baruch Hashem. When parents call me to do a bris, I send them the book immediately via UPS. Once I wrote this book, I thought about other things I could write. I saw that Rabbi Chanoch Teller had written a book on stories and it occurred to me that I’m very close to Rav Shalom Schwadron and stories might not be a bad idea. Artscroll had never had a book of stories. They were printing their siddur, and their idea was to write books on Tanach in the future. But then I approached them about writing stories. I told Rav Schwadron that his stories are great, but they were only told in Yiddish. In America the young adults could not understand it. I asked if I could write them in English. He loved the idea. He gave me his notes and I had a cousin Rav Chaim Dovid Ackerman who translated what i wrote in English to Yiddish so that Rav Shalom could understand it. He loved how I retold his stories. The stories were one typeface because the stories stood on their own. The lessons, which were mine, were and are printed in a different typeface.
After The Maggid Speaks was published I again wondered if there was more to write. I thought I had written the best stories of Rav Schwadron. But then Rav Nosson Sherman, the editor in chief at Artscroll, called me and he told me I need to write another book.
He said he had just been in South Africa and the Rebbe there in the yeshiva was teaching the stories from my book. He told me that if thousands of miles away people are reading my books then I have the responsibility to write another one. So I went back to Rav Schwadron and I got a few more stories, but it wasn’t enough for a book. So I started asking a number of chachamim, askanim, rabbanim for their stories. That’s how the second book was published, Around the Maggid’s Table. In other words, the maggid (Rav Schwadron) was telling stories and others added their episodes so to speak. That’s also how my speaking tours started, people thought if I could write a story, then perhaps I could tell a story. But I didn’t just tell a story- there was always a lesson to it. The more I spoke, the more people started telling me stories. That’s how the Maggid books have come to be written.
Where do you get your stories from?
At this point, people want to tell me stories because they know I might publish them or use them in a speech. I also read many articles and biographies of great people.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished a book called “The Glittering World of Chessed,” which Artscroll tells me has sold over 8000 copies. The book market is very difficult because everybody gets the newspapers and magazines every shabbos, the Hamodia, the Yated, Mishpacha, Ami, and the Jewish Vues.
They get so many publications so book sales have gone down. This book came about because I was making a recording three times a week for a yeshiva called Ateres Shimon, and they’re very technologically savvy and have many recordings that go out every day. They have recordings on Emuna and Halacha. They asked me if I would do a Chessed recording every day. I told them I could do three times a week and from that came this book on ideas of chessed from all over the world. One of the beauties of the book is at the end I give a list of organizations and their phone numbers. Some of these organizations have called me and told me that people have donated to them.
A wonderful person in the Upper West side of Manhattan named Mr. Cyrus Abbey read the book. I had written two totally different stories, no connection whatsoever. One of them was about Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss’s late wife Libi, who nebach, passed away. She did a tremendous amount of chessed. One of the things she’d do is, on her birthday, she would call people and give them blessings. As it was nearing sundown on one of her recent birthdays she asked her husband untill when she can give blessings and he said to be machmir on the zmanim and keep ‘Rabeinu Tam’ and give as many as she wants and she gave as many as she could. Then I wrote about a totally different organization called Hamaspik which is a soup kitchen in Boro Park. People who don’t have what to eat can come and have a warm meal numerous times of the week. Mr. Abbey called me up and said he’s been reading my book and he wants to do something special. He said he’s turning 80 in a few weeks and what he is going to do is go to Hamaspik on his birthday and give 80 of them a blessing and give them each $80. These stories had nothing to do with each other but this wonderful man connected them.
Are you writing another Maggid book yet?
I plan on writing a Haggada that hopefully will come out near Purim this coming year. Time is so precious. This afternoon I’m speaking for Belz as their Keynote speaker. Before that I’m speaking at the Torah Vodaas dinner, and for the next few months until this book ends I’m going to be speaking in England, Lithuania, Denmark,
How often do you speak?
Many many times B’lee Ayin Horah.
How many times do you tell the same story before you “retire” it?
If I’m in the same area, I don’t repeat stories. I take very detailed notes about what I say in every place that I go.
What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
I’ve been blessed to travel and love the places I’ve been. One of my most favorite places though is South Africa. There are so many ba’alei teshuva and they thirst for authentic Torah Judaism.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I’m really blessed that I love everything I do. When I’m doing a bris, that’s the thing I want to be doing the most. When I’m speaking, that’s where I want to be. And when I’m writing, there’s no place else I’d rather be. That’s one of the biggest brochos in the world that you can provide for your family and do things that you love to do. There are many people who are stuck in jobs that they don’t like so then they look for hobbies. I’m blessed that my hobbies are my profession.
Is there anything on your “bucket list” that you have not done that you would like to do?
I would love to finish Shas b’iyun, Chumash, and Tanach.
Do you speak in Eretz Yisrael a lot? BH, I speak at least once a year for 2,500 women at Binyanei Hauma usually during the 9 days. That’s very special.
What would you consider the three biggest problems that K’lal Yisroel now faces?
Anti-Semitism in the world, Kids at Risk, Shalom Bayis.
How does K’lal Yisroel deal with Sinas Chinam?
I think that everyone should adopt doing a middah of chessed a day, like the Chofetz Chaim writes in his sefer “Ahavas Chesed.” If people would really be involved with doing something for someone every day, it would change them. I think that we need more patience and tolerance. Everybody should respect someone else who has a mesorah.
If somebody is following a mesorah, even if my Rebbe is not your Rebbe or my Rosh Yeshiva is not your Rosh Yeshiva, then you need to respect them and there’s a lack of that.
What would you say is your most popular story?
The story called “Perfection on the Plate” in my “Echoes of the Maggid” book. A father tells a story about his son Shaya who went to Ptach School during the week and to Darchei Torah on Sundays. One afternoon, Shaya and his father walked past a park where some boys whom Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they will let me play?”
Shaya’s father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya’s father also understood that if his son was chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging. Shaya’s father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his team mates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said “We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.”
Shaya’s father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning Shaya’s team scored again and now, with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible for him to hit the ball because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it.
However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya’s teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch.
The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung at the ball and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game.
Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first. Run to first.” Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out the still-running Shaya.
But the right fielder understood what the pitcher’s intentions were so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second.” Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third.”
As Shaya rounded third the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, “Shaya run home.” Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero as he had just hit a “grand slam” and won the game for his team.
“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “those 18 boys reached their level of Hashem’s perfection.”
Lastly can you please say something about the Yom Tov of Shavuous which we are celebrating this week.
I plan on being at Gateways again this year. They always have many wonderful speakers there. The Bnei Yisaschar asks, “Why do we count 49 days?”
Rabbi ben Zakai asks his Talmidim, “What is the best midah that a person should have?” One says a chaver tov, a good friend, one says an ayin tov, a good eye and one says you should have a lev tov, a good heart. And when he heard that, he said that was the best answer because if you have a good heart, you’ll have the other midos too, a good eye and a being a good friend. The Bnei Yisaschar says the word “lev” in Gematria is 32 and “tov” is 17, which equals 49. That’s the Avodah of the 49- days we have to obtain a lev tov everyday and we have to obtain a higher level of that lev tov. So the Avodah that we all have to do from now until Shavuos is to obtain a lev tov and perfect our Bein Adam L’echaveiro.