18 Sep EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE MAGGID & MOHEL RABBI PAYSACH KROHN
Few writers and speakers inspire like Rabbi Paysach Krohn. Author of 13 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.
VUES: What do you consider your specialty?
RPK: Milah, writing, and speaking.
VUES: How many years have you been a mohel?
RPK: More than forty.
VUES: Why did you become a mohel?
RPK: 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.
VUES: How many brissen have you performed over the years?
RPK: I don’t count them, but there have been thousands.
VUES: Do you have a favorite “mohel” story you can tell us?
RPK: 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 get a bris. 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. Rav Moshe Tendler was there and he spoke magnificently about what it means to be a soldier in the army of Hashem.
VUES: Who taught you how to be a mohel?
RPK: 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 and accompany 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 do it and if there was a Shabbos bris I would go with him, too. Then unfortunately when he got sick in 1965-1966, I would go with him every time and by June 1966 I was doing brissen by myself.
VUES: Have your sons continued as mohels?
RPK: Yes, my son Rabbi Eliezer Krohn is a mohel in Passaic and my son-in-law Rabbi Efraim Perlstein in Far Rockaway. I have five children all together.
VUES: How did you come up with the idea of writing the Maggid series?
RPK: 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 z”tl 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 together with my mother. They liked it very much and said ok to my book, but said I should cover everything out there. I worked on the book for 2 ½ years and in 1985 it came out. It’s been reprinted ten different times, BH. When parents call me to do a bris, I have UPS at my door the next day and I send the parents this book. Once I wrote this book, I thought about what else 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 it from my English to Yiddish so that Rav Shalom could understand it. He loved how I retold it. The stories were one typeface because the stories stood on their own. The lessons, which were mine, are written in a different typeface. So after the first Maggid book, I figured, “What else can I write?” But then Rav Nosson Sherman, the main editor 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 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 number of stories, but it wasn’t enough for a book. So then I started asking a number of chachamim, askanim, rabbanim, and people started telling me stories. That’s how the second book came out, Around the Maggid’s Table. That’s also how my speaking tours started- people figured that 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. I’ve written thirteen books now, Baruch Hashem. Nine Maggid books, the Bris book, a book on my trip to Lithuania, and 2 books on my speeches.
VUES: Where do you get your stories from?
RPK: At this point, people want to tell me stories because they know I might publish it or use it in a speech.
VUES: What are you working on right now?
RPK: Right now I am working on two different projects. Artscroll has been asking me to write a Haggadah. Perhaps we’ll call it “The Maggid on Maggid.” Also, I’m writing a book on chesed because I put out three chesed recordings per week, so eventually we might put out a book called Loving Chesed.
VUES: Are you writing another Maggid book yet?
RPK: I just came out with the last Maggid book Chanukah time. It takes a while to accumulate enough stories. It takes about 2- 2½ years to write a Maggid book.
VUES: How often do you speak?
RPK: More than a hundred times a year.
VUES: How many times do you tell the same story before you “retire” it?
RPK: 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.
VUES: What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
RPK: 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.
VUES: What’s your favorite part of your job?
RPK: 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.
VUES: Is there anything on your “bucket list” that you have not done that you would like to do?
RPK: I would love to finish Shas b’iyun, Chumash and Tanach.
VUES: Do you speak in Eretz Yisrael a lot?
RPK: BH, I speak at least once a year for 2,500 women, at Binyanei Hauma usually during the 9 days. That’s very special.
VUES: What would you consider the three biggest problems that K’lal Yisroel now faces?
RPK: Anti-Semitism in the world, Kids at Risk, Shalom Bayis.
VUES: How does K’lal Yisroel deal with Sinas Chinam?
RPK: I think that everyone should adopt of doing a middah of chesed 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.
VUES: What would you say is your most popular story?
RPK: 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 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.”
FAST FACTS ABOUT RABBI KROHN
Born in: Williamsburg
Yeshiva Went to Growing up: Yeshiva Torah Vodaas
Favorite Rebbe: My 8th grade Rebbe in Torah Vodass, Rabbi Thumin. My father also hired a private rebbe for me, Reb Leibel Chait, z”l and he was from the greatest people I ever met.
Lives currently: Kew Gardens
Favorite Meshechtot: Kesubas and Brachos
Most difficult Mesechta: Yevamos
Favorite Jewish musician: Shlomie Gertner
Hobbies: I used to be into photography
Favorite Sports Team: I used to follow the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Favorite Baseball player of all time: Duke Snider
Most revered person in Tanach: Dovid Hamelech
First Bris Performed as Mohel: June 1966
If you weren’t an author, mohel, lecturer, you would be:
A Rebbe in a yeshiva
Year the first Maggid book came out: 1987
If you can invite 3 dinner guests, lets say for a Friday night
Shabbos meal, anyone from the beginning of time, it could be anyone in tanach, a rebbie of yours, relatives, sports, music etc.
Who would you invite?:
1: Rabbi Chaim Ozer 2: Rashi 3: Dovid Hamelech