Every serious, erlicher Yid has a schedule of learning, davening, and spiritual avodah to infuse his day with kedushah. Even among serious B’nei Torah, it’s not uncommon to have a more relaxed schedule when one is traveling, when one travels for vacation or business.
Rabbi Don Yoel Levy OB”M traveled often, for weeks at a time, away from his home, his shul, his office. So many average people would do things differently if they were in his situation – maybe wake up a little later, vary their learning schedule, etc. Rabbi Levy did not vary his schedule one iota. How can one tell that someone is a real, true person? When he travels and adheres precisely to his schedule of learning, davening, kashrus stringencies, mode of dress, exercise schedule, etc. When nothing changes despite the change in environment, it shows a certain strength of character.
When I accompanied Rabbi Levy on trips, whether to Eretz Yisroel, Canada, Russia or any other place, he never deviated from his schedule. He woke up at the same time, early in the morning, to learn the seder of Torah study that he received from the Lubavitcher Rebbe many years ago, which outlined a robust schedule of learning nigleh and Chassidus, with daily and weekly quotas. Even in very remote locations, if at all possible, he would immerse in a mikvah before davening, and so forth.
Sometimes, a person spends a lot of time davening and learning, but they aren’t a mentsch. We all know that “derech eretz kadmah l’Torah”, treating others well comes ahead of learning Torah. Of course, derech eretz is part of Torah – someone who internalizes his learning will naturally treat others with respect! Rabbi Levy took great care to show mentschlichkeit to every person, big or small. When he traveled, Rabbi Levy made sure to greet the local rabbi and defer to him as the leader of the city or congregation, even when the rabbi was young enough to be Rabbi Levy’s grandson.
But mentschlichkeit is not only respect. A few times, I joined Rabbi Levy on trips. Although he was my uncle, when I traveled with him, I was in the capacity of his employee and he was my boss. Rabbi Levy had a custom to daven with the earliest available minyan. I did not always make it to the first minyan, but Rabbi Levy sent me a message each morning after he completed Shacharis to see when I would be ready for breakfast and ask if I wanted him to wait for me.
I will never forget the last trip I took to Moscow with Rabbi Levy a few months before his passing. Rabbi Levy called me early in the morning towards the end of our trip and asked if I wanted to join him on a trip to the city of Lubavitch, because he had never been there. He consulted with his wife about the trip and instructed me to call my wife and seek out her permission as well. Of course, my wife said to go to Lubavitch and asked me to daven for our family there. I was recovering from a broken foot, so Rabbi Levy rented a van with large comfortable seats as he wanted to make sure I would be as comfortable as possible for the long journey.
One of the most important qualities for a Rav HaMachshir, a Rabbinic Coordinator, a mashgiach, is a thirst for knowledge, and a depth and breadth of knowledge. Not only about Halacha and kashrus, but a drive to know everything possible about each certified facility. One needs to know the final products, inside and out, the other productions (even non-certified) done in the facility, the possible non-kosher ingredients, what needs to be kashered and how, the production schedule for eino ben yoma kashering, etc.
There are two ways to get this information. The first is to ask the company to provide information, through their application, their ingredient and product submissions, asking questions via email, etc. The downside to this method is that the information might be incomplete. The company representative might not understand the questions, they might inadvertently leave out a piece of information, they might not understand the importance of a detail, or, it’s even possible that they are trying to conceal some information. This is where inspections become crucial. The only way to get the full picture of what is happening at a facility is to visit the facility and see everything for yourself. Rabbi Levy noticed details, and he spoke to employees. He had a system of asking managers, staff members, machine operators, and encouraging them to talk and share everything that came to mind.
This is how you really get to know the ins and outs of the facility. Rabbi Levy had this talent. When he visited a company he saw the full picture in front of him, and he understood even that which was not readily obvious. Whenever Rabbi Levy returned from a facility he wrote a detailed report of his inspection. His reports were clear and methodical so they could be understood by any OK staff member that needed to access the information in the future. There were no cryptic notes that only he could understand. It was like he planned ahead for when we would need to understand his reports without him physically here to explain them.
When we visited OK certified facilities together I asked Rabbi Levy to teach me how to conduct a proper inspection. He had a lot of patience and took the time to go over every detail. Once we visited a yogurt company in Toronto, Canada. Rabbi Levy explained the functions of the machinery, the ingredients, down to the smallest details. He had a knack for noticing things that others would not see. He picked up on minor changes, because he understood Halacha and he understood the technical side of how machinery works. He asked questions to every type of staff member in the facility, even about the minutest aspects of production. I learned so much from these trips.
We are coming to the second yahrzeit of Rabbi Levy, on Acharon Shel Pesach. It is a time when we can think about how Rabbi Levy conducted himself and how we can follow in his footsteps and try to emulate even some of what he stood for. It is my hope and goal to approach Rabbi Levy’s level in my private life, in my holy work as the Rav of his shul, Beis Eliezer Yitzchok, and in my role as a member of the OK Executive Kashrus Vaad.