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January 16, 2017 / 18 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘God’

‘God Has Sent Us The Jew From Judah To Help Us’: An Interview with Malawi’s Israeli MP

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

An Israeli in an African parliament? It sounds bizarre, but it’s true. Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa (population: 17 million), counts exactly two whites in its 193-member parliament. One of them is 50-year-old David Yakov Bisnowaty, a former IDF soldier and the son of a Holocaust survivor.

While here in New York last week for the opening of the UN General Assembly’s 71st session, Bisnowaty, who is married with three children, spoke to The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: What’s your background?

Bisnowaty: My father worked as a mechanical engineer for a big multinational company, which sent him to Africa. So I was born in Israel but grew up in Kenya. And when you grow up in Africa, you have a bond with Africa.

Eventually I went back to Israel and served in the Israeli army. But later I returned to Africa and lived in South Africa. Then, in 1993, I found myself on a business strip to Malawi and fell in love with the place. So I decided to move there, and since then I’ve probably been the single largest investor in Malawi. I have a pharmaceutical factory which manufactures generic drugs – it’s the biggest pharmaceutical factory in Malawi – and I also distribute medical equipment to hospitals.

How did you wind up in Malawi’s parliament?

I entered politics in 2014 because I felt something had to be done. What triggered me was nearly running over a young boy with my car. He was licking the road because he had spilled the food he was carrying, and my heart broke. I couldn’t believe poverty was so bad that people had to lick the road just to get a little bit of food. So I told my family, “I’m going to enter politics to help the poor Malawians.”

Everybody said, “You’re crazy. A white man, a Jew, a non-indigenous person, is going to be elected a member of parliament? You’ll never make it.”

But I ran against 11 other contestants and won by an overwhelming majority. I became the first Jewish member of parliament in Malawi for the biggest constituency, which is Lilongwe, the capital of the country. I serve close to a million people.

Are you the only Jew serving in a parliament on the continent of Africa (excluding South Africa)?

According to the information I have, yes.

As a member of Malawi’s parliament, what causes do you try to advance?

I have many projects. We just passed a marriage bill that a young girl cannot marry before the age of 18. That was a big success. I also was able to get running water for 23 villages in my area. The women in these villages used to go to the stream to collect water, which they then brought home on their heads. Now they have tap water next to their homes. So that for me is a big success story.

I’m also advocating for democracy. We have democracy obviously, but Africa got it quite late [so it needs improvement]. I also fight corruption. It’s not easy and it will take time, but that is one of my struggles as well. Finally, I focus heavily on education. I believe that if we educate the people, Malawi will change.

What do people in Malawi think of Jews in general and Israel specifically?

Israel was one of the countries that assisted Malawi from the time it got its independence [in the late 1960s]. It sent doctors and others to help Malawi, so the ties between the two countries have been very strong since then.

Regarding Jews: I don’t see any anti-Semitism in Malawi. People actually love that I’m a Jew. They see me as a businessman who didn’t go into politics because of money but because of ideology, because of love for the country. I think they have more trust in me for that reason; they believe that I’m genuinely coming to help them.

In general, they believe the Jewish people are blessed and are here for a purpose by G-d. People in Malawian villages actually say [about me], “G-d has sent us the Jew from Judah to help us.” And that might be why I ended up in Malawi. If you believe in God – and I do believe in Him – then [surely] I didn’t end up in Malawi for nothing.

Are there any Jews in Malawi besides you and your family?

No, unfortunately we’re the only ones.

If you wanted to observe Judaism in Malawi, are there any resources at all to do so?

We keep a kosher home in Malawi; we get our meat from South Africa. I’m not very religious but I keep the tradition, so this Rosh Hashanah, for example, I will be spending in South Africa where I have a house that is close to a shul.

Why do you have a house there?

It’s for my daughter, who is more frum and teaching in a Jewish school in South Africa. So she uses the house, and then when I come down to South Africa, I use it as well.

What’s the official language of Malawi?

English. They have a local language – Chichewa – but the official language is English.

What’s next for you?

I plan to run for at least another term when this one concludes in 2019. After that, God knows.

Elliot Resnick

Israeli Postal Service Delivers Letters to God at the Wall Ahead of Rosh Hashanah

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Israel Post Director General Danny Goldstein on Monday met with Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, to deliver to him a consignment of letters addressed to God. The holy mail was delivered ahead of the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays, and will be placed in the cracks and crevices of the ancient stones of what used to be a supporting wall for the Temple. The letters were posted from Israel as well as from Russia, China, France, Nigeria, Spain, the Netherlands, the US, and the UK.

Letters to God

Letters to God

Hundreds of letters are mailed to Israel annually addressed to “God,” “Jesus,” “Our Dear Father in Heaven” and “the Western Wall.” These letters, most of which lack a return address, are sent to the Israel Post Lost and Found Dept., which then sends them, every few months, to be placed among the stones of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Back in 2006, a company called Letter to God Ltd. announced a service of placing letters to God, written on the customer’s home computer, in the cracks and crevices of the Western Wall. We are not sure what happened to them, but their website, letter2god.com, is available for the right price. Another example of free enterprise losing out to the nanny state.


Gam Zu L’tovah – True Trust In God

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Bitachon is trust in God – a trust that He will make things end up all right. The word bitachon is connected to the Hebrew root of tach (Vayikra 14:42), which means to plaster, to cling, and to cause to cling closely.

Bitachon thus is more than faith and belief that God is able to extricate an individual or a community from a difficult situation.

Belief and faith are called emunah – which is inherent in every Jew’s nature, even though it is not always internalized and part of his or her consciousness.

Emunah in God’s omnipotence does not necessarily comfort or remove anxiety and worry from someone confronted by a threatening situation. Bitachon, though, is a state of mind that can be likened to the firm reliance one has in a good friend or relative, someone to whom we are closely attached and who we know for sure will rally to our aid.

The person who possesses bitachon implicitly trusts that God’s help will be forthcoming if and when he needs it. He will not worry about his predicament but act to the best of his ability to resolve it, confident that God will add His help to pull him through. Such trust generates peace of mind. But how is it possible to have such implicit expectation of God’s help?

There is a well known saying of the great chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866) which, translated from the Yiddish, goes as follows: “Think well, and it will be well.”

The implication of this statement is that a positive outlook not only is good for one’s frame of mind, it enhances one’s ability to function more efficiently and the very thought itself can generate a positive power that will improve the situation so that “it will be well.”

How does this work?

Bitachon and the positive outlook and thoughts constitute an avodah, a form of service of God, a rigorous mental exercise. Spiritual stamina has to be mustered in order to combat the bleakness and seeming hopelessness of a given difficult situation. One must work arduously at maintaining the “think positive” process. It often involves shifting from an ingrained negative attitude in which a person may sometimes wallow to a totally different, positive, trusting one. This can be accomplished by constantly habituating oneself to thinking well.

One’s intellect can be trained to learn, understand, and interpret data the same way the hand can be trained in all kinds of precise, coordinated movements. One’s attitude can thus be rehabilitated by a conscious effort to constantly think well – i.e., good and positively. Through the repetition of habit, this will eventually become second nature.

Once the mental attitude or thought process has become a positive one, it then becomes the proper instrument to elicit God’s Goodness so that things become “good” in the real material sense. Why is that? Because this mental service – avodah – serves as an “arousal from below” which has the ability to generate a reciprocal “arousal from above.”

This process is described at length in the Zohar and chassidus. God decreed at the beginning of Creation that for every good action, word, and thought of man, there would be a reciprocal reaction from on High, resulting in many Divine blessings.

As if measure for measure, God says: “If you rely on Me against all odds and beyond all calculations, I too, will relate to you beyond the calculation as to whether you deserve My help or not.”

What about the phenomenon of “bad things happening to good people”? These individuals may have strong bitachon and yet things don’t end up OK. They get sick, or are involved in a bad accident, or are laid off, or a relative dies unexpectedly, etc. As a result, some may lose their bitachon.

In answer, it can be said that in general we do not know the absolute definition of “good” and “bad,” since we view life only within our narrow, finite terms. The true definition is much more encompassing and takes into account the spiritual, otherworldly realms. Hence, what seems to be “bad” to us may ultimately be the greatest good. This is reflected in the statement of Nachum Ish Gam Zu. He used to always say, “gam zu l’tovah – “this also happened for the good.”

Even in the grimmest moments, he ascribed goodness to whatever circumstances confronted him. The Talmud relates wondrous stories about the happy denouement of many of Nachum’s experiences that looked very bleak at the outset. There may have been many situations that did not turn out so well, but he nevertheless would continue to say, in all circumstances, gam zu l’tovah. He did not predicate the goodness of the situation on his human perspective. When he said gam zu l’tovah, he meant it fully and about every event in his life.

He knew – and so should we – that we can only gain by adopting a cheerful, positive, bitachon-filled disposition.

Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic

The Parsha Experiement – Va’etchanan: Building an Intimate Relationship with God

Thursday, August 18th, 2016
In this week’s parsha, Moses speaks, a lot – but it all seems so boring, and disconnected. The Torah is a book – and every sentence of that book fits together, like pieces in a puzzle. But how does that work, in this parsha? What is this parsha actually about?


This video is from Immanuel Shalev.
Link to last week:

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Immanuel Shalev

July Issue of ISIS’ Dabiq Magazine Celebrates Orlando, Nice, Normandy, Würzburg, Ansbach

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Issue 15, the Summer of 1437 (that’s 5776 or 2016 to the rest of us) issue of Dabiq, the online magazine of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has hit the virtual newsstands, and it is, as always, chock full of hate, promises of murder and mayhem, and, of course, inspirational, blood thirsty stories about the spirit of Islam.

The new issue, with a modern, slick design, very much like your prestigious coffee table magazine, offers the familiar arguments against the authenticity of Judaism and Christianity, repeats the argument of the Crusading Europeans and their Jewish beachhead looking to dominate the Middle East, rehashes the Quran verses that belittle Jews — it’s all very familiar fare. What’s new is the forward section, which is up-to-the-minute and especially vile. So here it is (redacted). For the full version, you’re invited to click here.

“After the attacks in Orlando (USA), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Magnanville, Nice, and Normandy (France), and Würzburg and Ansbach (Germany) led to the martyrdom of twelve soldiers of the Caliphate and the deaths and injuries of more than six hundred Crusaders, one would expect the cross-worshipers and democratic pagans of the West to pause and contemplate the reasons behind the animosity and enmity held by Muslims for Westerners and even take heed and consider repentance by abandoning their infidelity and accepting Islam.

“But the fever and delusion caused by sin, superstition, and secularism have numbed what is left of their minds and senses. Their hedonic addictions and heathenish doctrines have enslaved them to false gods including their clergy, their legislatures, and their lusts. As for worshiping the Creator alone and following His Final Messenger, then that is beyond their consideration.

“… And despite their wretched condition of ignorance and arrogance, we take this occasion of multiple massacres inflicted upon their citizens and interests to call them once again to the religion of pure monotheism, truth, mercy, justice, and the sword.

“Between the release of this issue of Dabiq and the next slaughter to be executed against them by the hidden soldiers of the Caliphate – who are ordered to attack without delay – the Crusaders can read into why Muslims hate and fight them, why pagan Christians should break their crosses, why liberalist secularists should return to the fitrah (natural human disposition), and why skeptical atheists should recognize their Creator and submit to Him. In essence, we explain why they must abandon their infidelity and accept Islam, the religion of sincerity and submission to the Lord of the heavens and the earth.”

The Forward concludes: “We call you to reflect on these questions as the bloodthirsty knights of the Caliphate continue to wage their war of just terror against you. And have no doubt that the war will only end with the black flag of Tawhid (Islamic monotheism) fluttering over Constantinople and Rome, and that is not difficult for Allah…”

Issue 15 also offers a feature article titled “Break the Cross,” about how Islam is the only perfect word of God, which Jews and Christians just didn’t get right (or, in the case of the Jews, falsified — especially that story of the lad Ishmael who was kicked to the desert by Abraham, needless to say that couldn’t have happened…).

Another feature article (p.30) is an opinion piece titled, “Why We Hate You & Why We Fight You.” As you’ll recall, the official Bush White House answer to that question was because they envy our democracy. Turns out ISIS has a different take on why they hate us.

“1. We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah – whether you realize it or not – by making partners for Him in worship, you blaspheme against Him, claiming that He has a son, you fabricate lies against His prophets and messengers, and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices. It is for this reason that we were commanded to openly declare our hatred for you and our enmity towards you. ”

OK, that hatred is entirely about Christianity, with God’s son and all that business, we Jews never went for that sort of thing. In fact, we are not allowed to set foot inside a church for precisely those same reasons. But we don’t kill anybody, we just stay home and have some tea and biscuits.

“2. We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited while banning many of the things He has permitted, a matter that doesn’t concern you because you separate between religion and state, thereby granting supreme authority to your whims and desires via the legislators you vote into power. In doing so, you desire to rob Allah of His right to be obeyed and you wish to usurp that right for yourselves.”

That one is especially problematic for faithful Jews in a democratic society, because we actually share the Muslims’ belief that the state apparatus, including the Jewish king (prime minister), must be part of a national religious endeavor. But we have developed a clever rabbinic device called, “The law of the land is the law,” which is our version of “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The difference is that in the Christian version, Caesar is permanent, while our story has a happy ending with Jewish king who observes God’s law and redeems the nation (and the world). And, of course, instead of killing anyone who disagrees, we have tea and possibly crumpets.

“3. In the case of the atheist fringe, we hate you and wage war against you because you disbelieve in the existence of your Lord and Creator. You witness the extraordinarily complex makeup of created beings, and the astonishing and inexplicably precise physical laws that govern the entire universe, but insist that they all came about through randomness and that one should be faulted, mocked, and ostracized for recognizing that the astonishing signs we witness day after day are the creation of the Wise, All-Knowing Creator and not the result of accidental occurrence.”

OK, but to hate and kill over these disagreements? Isn’t it a little extreme? Also, those atheist types often write the code that enables ISIS to slash those infidel throats on live TV, while ISIS scientists are yet to produce the first, well, anything.

Numbers 4, 5, and 6 I hate-you’s are about the fact that the West has been mocking and killing hundreds of thousands of Arabs in the Middle East, and for that how can we fault them. All we can do is try harder to take those repugnant ISIS folks out in large groups and on a daily basis. If only because the article concludes with this money line:

“The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”

And so, as any clear thinking human being would conclude, the only cure for ISIS is to eliminate them physically from the face of the earth. Nothing short of that will do.

Joyous reading.


God, Evolution, And Darwin: An Interview with Molecular Biologist Douglas Axe

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

“Religion vs. science” conflicts are generally depicted in popular culture as battles between narrow-minded bigots and tolerant truth-seekers. From the Galileo Affair to the Scopes Monkey Trial, religious authoritarians are cast as the force of darkness attempting to stifle the light of science.

In recent decades, though, this narrative has arguably been turned on its head. Instead of religious authorities persecuting free thinkers, today, more often than not, it is “free” thinkers who persecute believers who dare challenge the popular consensus on such hot-button issues as evolution or global warming.

Douglas Axe, director of the Biologic Institute in Seattle, knows this first-hand. As a post-doctoral researcher at the prestigious Medical Research Council Centre in Cambridge in 2002, he was experimenting on protein structures when his superiors discovered that his research was being funded in part by an intelligent design organization. The science was solid – he later published his findings in a prestigious journal – but his association with intelligent design was considered unacceptable. He was asked to leave.

In his first book, “Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed” (HarperOne) – published two weeks ago – Axe recounts his experiences at the Medical Research Council Centre and presents his objections to the theory of evolution as it currently stands.

Axe holds a PhD from Caltech and has published in such scientific journals as Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Molecular Biology. He recently spoke with The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: You write in Undeniable that you harbored doubts about evolution even as a college student. What were those doubts?

Axe: I perceived there to be a deep contradiction between the materialist worldview – which is the idea that everything is matter and energy – and our notion of human free will. If we are nothing but large machines made out of atoms and molecules, all of which are slaves to the laws of physics, how is it that we can decide to do this or do that?

You write that you were convinced at the time that if you could prove the evolutionary theory was flawed, scientists would be forced to agree since they value truth above all. You now say you were naïve to believe this. Please explain.

It’s a utopian view of science. It’s this idea that although scientists have their own personal preferences, when they put on their white lab coats they’re ultimately about the truth – and nothing else – and if their theories are proven wrong they will concede. But scientists are 100 percent human, and all the things that other humans find hard – like admitting you’re wrong – are hard for scientists. Also, scientists survive in their profession by getting the approval of other scientists, so that gives rise to peer pressure.

You write that philosophical hindrances might also be holding scientists back from acknowledging the flaws with evolution.

Yes. I start the book with the question “Where did we come from?” and lay out the two possibilities: Either we’re cosmic accidents or we’re the product of purpose. If we’re cosmic accidents, we basically end up with this nihilistic position – that there is no moral right and wrong and we’re here today and gone tomorrow, so live how you want to live. But if that’s false and instead we’re a product of purpose and intent [conceived by a Creator], then you have a completely different view of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live our lives.

Elliot Resnick

What Makes God Laugh

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

There is an old saying that what makes God laugh is seeing our plans for the future. However, if Tanach is our guide, what makes God laugh is human delusions of grandeur. From the vantage point of heaven, the ultimate absurdity is when humans start thinking of themselves as godlike.

There are several pointed examples in the Torah. One whose full import has only recently become clear occurs in the story of the Tower of Babel. Men gather together in the plain of Shinar and decide to build a city and a tower “that will reach to heaven.” As it happens, we have archeological confirmation of this fact. Several Mesopotamian ziggurats, including the temple of Marduk in Babylon, have been found with inscriptions saying that they reach heaven.

The idea was that tall buildings – man-made mountains – allowed humans to climb to the dwelling place of the gods and thus communicate with them. The Mesopotamian city states were among the first places of civilization, itself one of the turning points in the history of human life on earth. Before the birth of agriculture, the ancients lived in fear of nature: of predators, of other tribes and bands, and of the vicissitudes of heat and cold, drought and flood. Their fate depended on matters beyond their control.

Only with the spread of domesticated animals and agriculture did people gather in towns, then cities, then empires. A tipping point occurred in the balance of power between nature and culture. For the first time humans were not confined to adapting to their environment. They could adapt their environment to suit them. At this point they – especially the rulers – began to see themselves as gods, demigods, or people with the power to influence the gods.

The most conspicuous symbol of this was buildings on a monumental scale: the ziggurats of Babylon and other Mesopotamian cities, and the pyramids of Egypt. Built on the flat land of the Tigris-Euphrates valley and the Nile delta, they towered over their surroundings. The great pyramid of Giza, built even before the birth of Abraham, was so monumental that it remained the tallest man-made structure on earth for four thousand years.

The fact that these were artificial mountains built by human hands suggested to their builders that humans had acquired godlike powers. They had constructed a stairway to heaven. Hence the significance of the phrase in the Torah’s account of the tower, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.” This is God laughing. On earth, humans thought they had reached the sky, but to God the building was so infinitesimal, so microscopic that he had to come down even to see it. Only with the invention of flight do we now know how small the tallest building looks when you are looking down from a mere 30,000 feet.

To end their hubris God simply “confused their language.” They no longer understood one another. The entire project was turned into French farce. We can visualize the scene. A foreman calls for a brick and is handed a hammer. He tells a worker to go right and he turns left. The project foundered in a welter of incomprehension. Men thought they could climb to heaven but in the end they could not even understand what the person next to them was saying. The unfinished tower became a symbol of the inevitable failure of vaunting ambition. The builders achieved what they sought but not in the way they intended. They wanted to “make a name for themselves” and they succeeded, but instead of becoming a byword for man’s ability to reach the sky, Babel became babble, an emblem of confusion. Hubris became nemesis.

Similarly, we can explain the otherwise curious episode of Bilam’s talking donkey. This is not a fanciful tale, nor simply a miracle. It arose because of the way the people of Moab and Midian thought of Bilam – and perhaps, by extension, the way he thought of himself. Balak the Moabite king, together with the leaders of the Midianites, sent a delegation to Bilam asking him to curse the Israelites: “Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me … for I know that whom you bless is blessed, and whom you curse is cursed.”

This is a pagan understanding of the holy man: the shaman, the magus, the wonder-worker, the person with access to supernatural powers. The Torah’s view is precisely the opposite. It is God who blesses and curses, not human beings. “I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse,” God said to Abraham. “They shall place my name on the children of Israel and I will bless them,” he said about the priests. The idea that you can hire a holy man to curse someone essentially presupposes that God can be bribed.

The narrative is admittedly obscure. God tells Bilam not to go. Balak sends a second delegation with a more tempting offer. This time God tells Bilam to go with them but say only what he instructs him to say. The next morning Bilam sets out to go with the Moabites, but the text now states that God was “angry” with him for going. That is when the episode of the donkey takes place.

The donkey sees an angel barring the way. It turns aside into a field but Bilam hits it and forces it back to the path. The angel is still barring the way and the donkey veers into a wall, crushing Bilam’s foot. Bilam hits it again, but finally it lies down and refuses to move. That is when the donkey begins to speak. Bilam then looks up and sees the angel, who had been hitherto invisible to him.

Why did God first tell Bilam not to go, then that he should go, and then was angry when he went? Evidently God could read his mind and knew that Bilam did really want to curse the Israelites. We know this because later, after the attempt to curse the Israelites failed, Bilam succeeded in causing them harm, advising the Midianites to get their women to seduce the Israelite men, thus provoking the anger of God (Num. 31:16). Bilam was no friend of the Israelites.

But the story of the talking donkey is another instance of Divine laughter. Here was a man reputed to be a maestro of supernatural forces. People thought he had the power to bless or curse whomever he chose. God, the Torah tells us, is not like that at all. He had two messages, one for the Moabites and Midianites, another for Bilam himself.

He showed the Moabites and Midianites that Israel is not cursed but blessed. The more you attempt to curse them the more they will be blessed and you yourself will be cursed. That is as true today as it was then. There are movements throughout the world to curse the state and people of Israel. The greater the malice of Israel’s enemies, the stronger Israel becomes, and the more disasters its enemies bring upon their own people.

God had a different message for Bilam himself, and it was very blunt. If you think you can control God, then, says God, I will show you that I can turn a donkey into a prophet and a prophet into a donkey. Your animal will see angels to which you yourself are blind.

Hubris always eventually becomes nemesis. In a world in which rulers engaged in endless projects of self-aggrandisement, Israel alone produced a literature in which they attributed their successes to God and their failures to themselves. Far from making them weak, this made them extraordinarily strong.

So it is with us as individuals. I have mentioned before a beloved friend, no longer alive, about whom it was said that “he took God so seriously that he didn’t need to take himself seriously at all.” Pagan prophets like Bilam had not yet learned the lesson we must all one day learn: that what matters is not that God does what we want, but that we do what He wants. God laughs at those who think they have godlike powers. The opposite is true. The smaller we see ourselves, the greater we become.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/what-makes-god-laugh/2016/07/21/

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