Yiras Shamayim: Hashgacha’s Vital Ingredient

The shock of the Monsey kashrus episode of 2006 is a shock that will not soon leave us.

The question that each of us in hashgacha has to ask of himself is: what must I learn from it?

In order to give us immeasurable assistance in this endeavor, the recent AKO (Association of Kashrus Organizations) conference asked one of the most inspiring and influential speakers in contemporary Jewish life to address the representatives of the kashrus agencies from around the globe who were in attendance. HaGaon Rav Matisyahu Salomon, Shlita, Mashgiach Ruchani of Beis Medrash Govoha-Lakewood, spoke on the topic of what we must learn from the Monsey debacle. What follows IY”H are highlights of Rav Solomon’s address.

We have to take advantage of what Hashem has recently shown us. We must use the Monsey episode as a vehicle for growth.

Why would Hashem shake our confidence in kosher supervision? Because we have been guilty of over-confidence: we have been saying, “We are the experts; we’re the most efficient.” We need to re-orient our attitudinal and emotional posture.

The real hallmark of quality kashrus supervision is that the rav hamachshir and the mashgiach tremble with fear, a fear that leads them to feel that they can’t check enough. This is an outgrowth of Yiras Shamayim. One who has Yiras Shamayim will tremble and be afraid that he shouldn’t commit a sin or cause anyone else to sin. No less than Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, Zatzal, davened—with tears in his eyes, while prostrated during the recitation of the Avodah, on the holiest day of the year—for the kashrus of his Pesach matzos!

The Ramban explains that Adam HaRishon’s sin was taking for granted that the fruit offered by Chava was a permissible fruit. In truth, he should have been trembling and fearful that it was the forbidden fruit, and he should have asked her, “From which tree did this come?” He should not have assumed that the very eizer, sent by no less than Hashem Himself, was giving him something kosher to eat!

Without Yiras Shamayim, a man is not a mashgiach, even if he knows all of Yoreh Deah (although, of course, one must know the halakhos!). Yiras Shamayim is no mere ma’alah for a mashgiach: it is the vital ingredient. Indeed, kashrus organizations are the elite of Klal Yisrael because they represent the Yiras Shamayim of Klal Yisrael.

A shochet once came to Rav Yisrael Salanter and said he had to change his trade because the responsibility for communal kashrus was becoming too much for him to bear. Rav Yisrael responded, “Who should be a shochet: someone without morah?!?”

Safeguards are required for spiritual matters. One who has Yiras Shamayim will feel the need for safeguards so that he can ensure as much as possible that no sin will occur. Avraham Avinu employed shevuos (oaths) as safeguards: once, when he made Eliezer swear regarding the marriage arrangements for Yitzchok Avinu and once, when he himself swore not to benefit from the plunder of the war of the four against the five (in order to be Mekadeish Shem Shamayim by not benefiting from it). He did not view his trust in his servant or himself as sufficient; there had to be an oath, as well. Safeguards!

The mitzvah of Yiras Shamayim means that one must bring oneself to feel Yiras Shamayim. This is what Yocheved and Miriam did in Mitzrayim in order to develop the fortitude to disobey Pharaoh. Mashgichim must learn Mussar to foster the growth of their own Yiras Shamayim. They must devise ways to be mechazeik one another in Yiras Shamayim.