On October 21st, Rabbi Paysach Krohn spoke at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills on the subject of Jewish unity. The talk was part of an on-going series entitled Modern Minds on Jewish Matters where various speakers discuss important issues facing the Jewish community.
Rabbi Krohn is a popular speaker and writer, best known for his Maggid series, a collection of inspiring stories published by Artscroll. He is also a mohel and author of a book on circumcision.
The hall was packed as Rabbi Krohn addressed the attentive audience, encouraging each and everyone to make a contribution towards achieving Jewish unity. He explained how, for example, the Gemara tells us that nobody could say ‘hello’ to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. He would make sure to greet everybody before they had a chance to greet him. In the same way, each one of us can become the kind of person that always greets people with a smile and makes them feel loved. In return, they will love us, and the world would be filled with love.
Rabbi Krohn cited a lesser known midrash giving a reason for the prohibition of wearing shaatnez, cloth containing both wool and linen. The midrash says that when Kayin and Hevel brought the first sacrifices, Kayin brought flax and Hevel brought sheep, the source of wool. Therefore, seeing linen and wool together reminds Hashem, so to speak, of the first machlokes and the first murder in history. That’s why we’re forbidden to wear shaatnez. But there is one exception. The Kohen Gadol in the Beis Hamikdash was allowed to wear shaatnez because the essence of his job is to bring peace to the world, thus undoing Kayin’s sin.
The key to unity, said Rabbi Krohn, is for all of us to become giving people. The Hebrew word “v’nasnu” – and they shall give – is a palindrome, spelled the same way forward and backward. It’s a hint that whatever a person gives to tzeddaka comes back to them. Giving to others is the greatest investment in life, pointed out Rabbi Krohn. He recommended keeping a diary where each night we write down one chessed that we did that day. “Your life will change,” he promised the audience.
Rabbi Krohn mentioned an inspiring quote, “Any fool can count the seeds in one apple, but only Hashem can count the apples in one seed.” He urged the listeners to plant seeds of kindness that would produce numerous fruits, illustrating the far-reaching effects of kindness with stories. For example, in the early 1950s an Orthodox rabbi in Hamilton, Ontario needed a large sum of money for his shul. It was a difficult time for the Orthodox community, outnumbered by the growing Conservative and Reform communities. The rabbi approached a local non-Jewish banker and asked him for money, making sure not to mention that his shul was Orthodox. But the banker pressed him for more information, and the rabbi had to admit that he represented an Orthodox congregation. With tears in his eyes, the banker exclaimed that he’d be happy to give him the money. It turned out that the banker lost his father as a young child, and an Orthodox Jewish store owner in his town provided food and clothes for him and his siblings free of charge. The banker felt forever indebted to Orthodox Jews and was glad to repay the debt.
Rabbi Krohn emphasized that each and every individual has the power to make such an impact. Rav Tzaddok said that one must believe in three things: Hashem, the Torah, and oneself. Each one of us can make a commitment to foster unity and become a giving person.