Rabbi Paysach Krohn – a fifth-generation mohel, globe-trotting maggid, tour leader of Jewish historical sites, and prolific author – has just come out with his 15th book, The Glittering World of Chessed. The Jewish Press recently spoke to him about his new publication, as well as his thought-provoking remarks on shidduch coaching at the recent Agudath Israel of America convention.
The Jewish Press: You’ve written many books filled with inspirational stories of all kinds. What made you decide to write a book with stories exclusively about chessed?
In 2016, I spoke about chessed at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. After the speech, the rosh yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Yehuda Groner, asked me if I would make recordings about chessed a few times a week for him to include in the school’s e-mail blasts. Once I started making these recordings and saw they were very popular, I decided to make a book out of them.
Can you repeat one of your favorite stories from the book?
In the 1950s, a Satmar chassid, who desperately needed a job, approached my uncle, R’ Elimelech Tress, also known as Mike Tress. He had lost his job because he was Shomer Shabbos and couldn’t even afford to put food on the table for his family.
My uncle asked the man, “What do you do?” He said, “I’m a glazier.” So my uncle sent him to a glazier shop in Williamsburg and assured him he would get a job there. Sure enough, he was hired on the spot. Every week, this chassid was paid, and he felt like a human being again.
After two months on the job, his boss called him in and said, “I want you to tell Mike Tress that he doesn’t have to give me any more money because from now on I’m going to pay you myself.”
It’s a very touching story.
Yes, it just demonstrates what chessed is all about – that my uncle was willing to pay this man’s salary from his own pocket. And this could have gone on indefinitely. It’s only that this man was such a good worker that the boss decided to pay him on his own.
Do you think rabbis and teachers should be telling more stories to their students?
Positively yes! When Hashem gave us the Torah, He told it in story form. Aren’t Bereishis and Shemos filled with stories? There must be dozens of stories in the Torah before you even get to Har Sinai. Hashem could have just given us 613 laws, but stories have such a powerful effect on people.
What can you tell us about writing stories?
My mother taught me writing, but the editing is very important. When I speak to students about writing, I tell them: Don’t be afraid to have your writing edited.
Many people become very possessive about what they’ve written and don’t want to be edited, but it’s majestic what good editors can do with a sentence – absolutely majestic – how they can cut out and rearrange words and make it so smooth. It’s magical, really.
You began telling stories 30 years ago. What’s the biggest difference between then and now?
A story is a story! Maybe I developed a little bit more of a talent in telling a story, but I never tell a story unless I am emotionally taken by it. It’s got to have a lesson, and it has to be something that takes hold of people – something that has an inherent lesson that people can learn from. In that way, I don’t think anything has changed.
You don’t think certain types of stories are more appealing now than before?
No, I don’t think so. There’s an expression in English. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And it’s not broke. It’s great!
The Maggid Speaks, which came out in 1985, was the beginning of the Maggid series and since then tens of thousands of Maggid books have been sold.
The only thing that’s a little bit different now is that I tell more stories about the common person, and in the beginning I was telling more stories about gedolim.
At the recent Agudah convention, you said many young people today are dating improperly because they belong to the “Amazon Generation.” Can you elaborate?
Nowadays, everybody goes on Amazon. They pick out an item – in the right color, size, and appearance – and, within a day or two, they have it in their home. So people get to think that everything can be ordered exactly the way they want it, and if they don’t like it, they can return it without charge and just order a new one.
Unfortunately, it’s become that way with shidduchim as well. If somebody gets rehd a shidduch, if it’s not the right family, the right package, the right background, and the right money, they say, “No.”
Should we accommodate or compromise more?
I think so. That’s what marriage is all about. Otherwise, people might miss the shidduch destined for them….
I really believe many people need shidduch coaching. One shidduch coach told me, “There are many people who are passing up good opportunities for bad reasons.”
Unfortunately, though, with so much rancor and dissention in families today, the home may not be the best example of what a marriage should be. Many people who come from divorced homes or difficult marriages are afraid to get married – and you can’t blame them.
So you need a coach, somebody who can take the young man or young woman and say, “Listen, maybe you’re afraid of marriage, but let’s talk this through.” It’s very, very important.
What makes a person a good coach?
Either experience or a baal seichel. You have to be very understanding, very patient, and you have to have a full scope of what a young man or woman needs in marriage.
Please tell us about your own shidduch.
I always say that the best girls are out-of-towners – I hope New Yorkers won’t be offended. My wife is from Denver, Colorado. I had a friend at Torah Vodaath who married a girl, originally from Denver, and when my wife came to New York for a chassanah, I was introduced to her. The rest is history.
What will your next book be about?
ArtScroll would like me to write a Haggadah or another “Maggid” book.
There are already so many Haggadahs on the market. How would yours be different?
That’s a very good question! My name is Paysach, so I could call it the Haggadah shel Paysach or The Maggid on Maggid. Now that I’ve got the title, all I need to do is write the book.
Seriously, in my Haggadah, I’d to like to imagine somebody sitting at my Seder table. There are hundreds of reasons why “Ha Lachma Anya” is in Aramaic. No one needs me for that. If I were writing a Haggadah, the theme of “Ha Lachma Anya” would be hachnasas orchim. And I would tell a beautiful story about hachnasas orchim.
Let me give you an example: Avraham Avinu’s hotel was called “eishel,” and Rabeinu Bechaya says that if you rearrange the letters of this word, you get “sha’al,” which means “question.” What is the quality of a great host? He is always asking questions: What can I do for you? Do you need a mirror or a chair in your room? Would you like to eat something? Do you need a train schedule?
That’s what I would bring out on “Ha Lachma Anya” if I were writing a Haggadah – the beauty of hachnasas orchim. I hope and pray that Hashem will give me the strength to be able to complete this project.