Yonkers, New York, Year 4, Number 2, June 2008    

 
 
Torah Tropical No.2 Vol.4
 
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Divrei Torah, from Rabbi Emmanuel Manny Viñas

In memory of my mother Margarita Viñas obm

Rabbi Manny Viñas and his mother Margarita Viñas, obm

On Thursday morning, May 22 at 4 am I was awakened by a call from my father to tell me the terrible news that my mother had died in her sleep that night.

I was shocked. I said the bracha “Baruch dayan hamet” and my father responded “amen” over the telephone. This bracha which I have said so many times with grieving family members of my congregation was now suddenly my turn to say. The words literally mean “Blessed be He… who is the true Judge.” The “true judge” is He who judges when it is the appropriate time for us to be born and for us to die. The true judge decides when and how this moment of “truth” will come for each of us. He decides when to bring our souls to this world when our parents and the world are ready to receive us, each of us in our own generation and in our own particular set of circumstances. Also the time of our death is calculated carefully out of love for us and out of love for those who love us. Often the wisdom that comes with God’s choice escapes us but we exert the effort to maintain our faith, knowing that His wisdom far exceeds ours and His love and compassion knows no bounds.

I take comfort in the knowledge that my mother did not know any suffering in those last moments of her life. Wednesday night she had a meal with my father. She laughed and joked with him and went to bed happy. I had just returned from Washington DC where I had met with 3 Cuban American Congress members to advocate for Israel. She was very proud and happy that thy had received me and my message so well and she went to bed in a good spirit. The Ribbono Shel Olam’s generosity with me and my family was so great! She died through the process which our rabbis of blessed memory called “mitah neshikah” the kiss of death. It is the process of death where God who originally breathed the breath of life into us humans takes that breath in a gentle and loving way. I am eternally grateful for this consideration.

The following are some of the thoughts that I shared with the very large crowd that assembled on Friday Morning for her graveside service of burial. This group of course included many family members and friends and also many Rabbis that knew her and came to grieve her loss with us.

I realized that the Parsha begins with the words ... “Im Bechukotai telechu.” “If you walk in my ways,” I will bless you with every kind of blessing. The parasha is offering us a plea from God to maintain ourselves on the path that he set out for us in His holy Torah so that we can be blessed. Our Rabbis explain that all of the blessings enumerated at the beginning of the parsha are only the beginning of them, the thee full blessing is walking the path of faith and loyalty itself. In other words it is a blessing in and of itself.

The word “Im” translated as “If,” is written with the letters alef and mem. This can also be read as “EM” literally meaning “mother.” To me this parasha is telling me and all of us who knew her that we should rededicate ourselves to walk in her path so that we can be blessed, because her path is the path of blessing.

My mother left Cuba after the Castro Dictatorship took hold of her country because she refused to live under the dictatorship of an evil despot. She believed all her life in the freedom and self determination that each person is entitled to and also her own freedoms. Throughout her life my mother lived according to what her soul and her conscience told her to live by. She made decisions not by consensus of what others told her, she decided what was for her and how she would live by what her neshama told her was right not by what any one else told her was right.

My mother converted (returned) to Judaism because she believed it was the right path that her soul wanted her to live by. She drew close to the Torah and did everything she could to raise us by her values, so that we would learn Torah and promote it. After she saw (recognized) that she was a descendant of the Jews of Spain that had been forcibly converted to Catholicism (the anusim) she saw that her Jewish soul had been talking to her all along and that everything that her society had said was false and that the only truth would be found in the Torah and in Judaism. Being a returnee to Judaism wasn’t easy. She was rejecting everything she had been surrounded by. She was rejected by some of her own family members who had money and could help her but now refused to do so. And she was rejected by Jews who didn’t know what to do with someone like her. No one knew anything about the “Anusim” a few called them “Marranos” literally meaning in Spanish “Pigs” as our enemies had called us. Many Rabbis, leaders, educators and common Jews treated us like second class citizens, but she continued in her path of faith regardless of what happened reinforcing in me and my brothers that the Torah is truth and all of its paths are pleasant, gentle, loving and true and all else is false. Of course she tried to protect us and was hurt when we got hurt but she never lost her faith and was always reinforcing it in us.

She could never understand why it was so difficult for Jews to accept that Judaism is such an attractive “path of life” that many would choose it for themselves. She could never understand why born Jews seemed to be incredulous to the idea that Judaism would be so worthwhile that Jews (and their descendants) who were threatened with torture and death by being burned alive, would still retain a remnant of faith and practice Judaism in secret for five hundred years! She wondered aloud why Rabbis weren’t out there advocating for the return of the Anusim – since the story of their return and survival of faith is a testament all Jew’s ability to survive our enemies and maintain our faith in the Torah and the ways of our ancestors. She maintained her faith even when others would not.

My parents saw much hardship in those early years, poverty, refugee status etc. But they constantly maintained their faith. One of the most difficult tests that any human being can endure is the loss of a child. My parents being recent refugees, having a very poor command of the English language experience this challenge through the loss of my sister (OBM) when she was only 5 years old. Those are the times that sometimes shake a person’s faith – my mother’s faith was strengthened and she drew even closer to the Torah. After all my sister (Miriam) died on Shabbat Shuvah the “Sabbath of Return” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. She had pain from this memory all her life but she never lost her faith that there was order in the universe and that God was in charge and had a plan for everything. My parents stayed together and supported each other finding strength in the ways of the Torah and its mitzvoth.

Our Rabbis compare our situation at present while alive as we ponder the meaning of life and death, to a conversation held between two brothers in the womb. One the doubter (pragmatist) believed that since there was no proof of any existence outside of the womb that that existence is probably all there was. The other the believer said that there would be a process of passing through a tunnel to a place of light. He said that this would happen when we had grown so big that the world that we are in can no longer hold us. He explained that there would be relatives waiting for us on that other side and that they would hug us receive us and say ‘Mazel Tov!” A great family reunion! Alas the great day came, the believer was born first and the doubter was left mourning – “my brother must have died.” But on the other side of the tunnel just as he had said, there was great “simcha - mazel Tov” a family reunion. Today my mother is with her parents, my sister and family have received her - a great simcha is over there but we who are here are also having a family reunion except we are mourning because we will miss her.

We take comfort in everything that she stood for. If we walk in her ways “Em behukotai telechu” we will know nothing but blessing. Her ways are the ways of listening to the soul and following it regardless of what happens around us knowing that we are on the right path, we refuse to deviate from it and I make the commitment in front of my mother’s grave to continue in her path with even more strength and commitment. May her memory be a blessing to me and give me strength to continue in the path of teaching and promoting Torah and Judaism.

from Rabbi Viñas & family

 


 

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