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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘jewish literature’

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Thirty-One: Hevedke the Jew

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Almost at the same time that Tevye was immersing little Moishe in the mystical mikvah in Safed, Hevedke Galagan was immersing himself in a mikvah in Jaffa as part of his conversion to Judaism. Afterward, a special brit milah circumcision was performed, and the blond Russian youth entered into the covenant between God and the Jewish People. His new Hebrew name was Yitzhak ben Avraham, a name chosen for its Biblical significance, and for its similarity to the name of the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa, HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, who the new Issac so greatly admired.

Issac’s studies had progressed remarkably quickly. He learned to speak Hebrew more fluently than Tevye, and with much less of a Russian accent. In addition, he had learned to read Aramaic and had already completed one tractate of the Talmud. Naturally, having only just started, he was behind everyone else, but with his characteristic long strides, he labored diligently to catch up. Jokingly, his friends called him Akiva, after the famous uneducated shepherd who had matured after decades of study into Israel’s greatest teacher of Torah.

Now and again, Issac had taken time from his busy learning schedule to write Hava a letter, but, true to his promise, he had not seen her in over a year. That had been the terms of his bargain with Tevye, and he had been stringent about keeping his end of the deal. But now, finally, the time had come to make their marriage kosher.

“If she will still have me,” he thought.

True, now he was Jewish, and that was a mountain out of the way, but he was no longer the same glib, outspoken poet who had mezmerized her in the sleepy village of Anatevka. The Torah had changed him. Discovering the unending depths of its wisdom, his own eclectic understandings had been exposed as superficial and false. All other religions were the inventions of man, whilst the Torah was given to the Jewish People by God. His former religious views and his vilification of Judaism filled the depths of his being with shame. When he realized how the New Testament had turned mankind away from the pure faith of the Torah, he understood why Tevye had banned his daughter from the house for having eloped with a stranger to their faith.

His day and night learning of the Talmud, and the thick volumes of Jewish law, had taught him that truth was more than platitudes. God’s will for man extended to every facet of life, to every thought and deed. Believing in a faraway deity wasn’t enough. A servant of God had to obey all of the orders of the King. But Hevedke didn’t look on the Torah’s commandments as an obligation or yoke. He embraced them with indescribable joy.

Recognizing the grandeur of his Creator, Hevedke’s boyhood bravado became a thing of the past. The yeshiva was like a fiery kiln, searing his pride, refining his coarse edges, and making him humble. Even his posture had changed. Instead of his once tall, upright swagger, the new Issac walked slightly bent over, with his head toward the ground, in constant awe of his Maker.

In a way, when Hava finally saw him after over a year, it was like meeting an entirely new person. From his letters, she knew that he was engrossed in his studies, but she never dreamed that it would cause such a change in his bearing. If he had not written her that he was coming to Zichron Yaaeov to marry her, she would not have recognized him when she saw him on the street. For one thing, he wore a hat. Not a fur shtreimel like Rabbi Kook, nor the cap of kibbutz worker, but a black fedora from Italy, like the hats worn by Jewish businessmen in Europe. Instead of his high Russian boots, he wore shoes, and instead of his casual suede jacket, he wore a simple black overcoat. But the biggest changes were his spectacles and his beard. Together they hid his youthful good looks. Long evenings of candlelight study, squinting at the flamelike Hebrew letters, had made eyeglasses a must. Though he needed them only for reading, he wore them the first time they met. And his reddish blond beard covered his cheekbones completely, taking away his Slavic appearance, and making him look like a Jew.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Thirty: Waters of Eden

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

What was a man, Tevye thought, that one moment he could be so filled with power and seemingly invincible force, and the next moment a motionless pile of flesh? He knew that the body on the ground wasn’t the real Goliath, but only the oversized suit which his giant soul had worn during his wanderings on earth. The real Goliath was on his way to Heaven and a world where size was measured in good deeds and Torah, not in physical power and strength. That’s what the Rabbis taught, and who was Tevye to disagree? The mysteries and secrets of life were beyond his understanding, but he was certain that the lifeless imposter before him wasn’t Goliath. His faithful companion couldn’t be gone. The Divine energy called life didn’t just disappear. Goliath simply had slipped out of his bulky lumberjack’s costume to journey to a less cumbersome world.

“Blessed be the true Judge,” a voice said.

It was Nachman.

“When will it end?” Tevye asked.

Nachman could only shake his head as he gazed down at his lifelong friend.

“I told him not to sleep in the barn. Like always, he worried about everyone else without thinking about himself.”

Nachman turned away and held on to Tevye.

“He was like a brother and father to me.”

Tevye let his son-in-law silently weep in his arms. He remembered how the giant had watched over Nachman, like a mother hen guarding its chick.

“He’s in a better world now,” Tevye observed.

Nachman nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I know,” he said. “I know. But he was such a good friend.”

Tevye himself felt like crying, but he had to stay strong for the boy. Death had robbed him of his best friends from the past, and he needed someone to remind him that for a Jew, life always had a happier future. That was the steadfast belief which had kept his People going for the last two thousand years, throughout endless persecutions and wanderings.

“Everything God does is always for the best, even if we can’t

understand,” Tevye told him. “Do you remember on the boat to

Israel, when they turned us away from landing, you had to remind me that everything turns out for our good?”

“I remember,” Nachman replied.

“Someday, when we gaze down from Heaven, we will understand these great secrets. But right now, you had better call Guttmacher,” Tevye said.

Nachman nodded. He walked out of the barn to fetch the undertaker, leaving Tevye alone with the toppled Goliath. “Alexander, the son of Rivka,” Tevye said, saying a prayer for the departed man’s soul. Tevye bent down and closed Goliath’s eyes. When he stood up, a rooster leaped onto the dead man’s chest and perched there like a vulture. Tevye shouted and kicked at the bird. Squawking, it flew into the air. Angrily, Tevye raced around the barn, scaring the chickens away. For Nachman’s sake, he had spoken strengthening words of faith. But alone with the very great loss, he succumbed to the more mortal feelings of anger and pain.

“Is this fair?” he called out toward the roof of the barn. “What did Goliath ever do to hurt a flea in his life? Is this the end he deserves – to drop dead amongst the cows and the chickens?!”

The roof didn’t answer. Neither did the animals. They were silent, hushed by Tevye’s outburst.

“You won’t break us!” Tevye shouted, raising a fist. “You won’t break us!”

A few pigeons flew out from the rafters.

“If Your judgment has to fall on someone, then leave the others alone. Let it all fall on me!”

Sighing, Tevye lowered his arm. He bent down and grabbed Goliath’s boots, thinking to drag the corpse out of the disease-ridden barn. As he gave the great hulk a tug, he heard a vertebra pop out of place in his spine. Tevye cried out in pain. Bent over double, he staggered to the door of the barn, shuffling his feet on the ground like a hunchback. Leaning against the barn wall, he looked up at Heaven and groaned.

“Okay,” he said, clutching his aching back. “You win. I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth.”

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Plague

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Needless to say, the Baron Rothschild never showed up. For the time being, Hodel and her baby, Ben Zion, moved into Ruchel’s cottage. The newcomers shared the curtained-off corner with Bat Sheva, Moishe, and Hannei. Goliath went to work cutting planks in order to add on another room to the house. Tevye told Nachman that he hoped the arrangement would be temporary. He confessed that he had a secret plan to interest Shmuelik in his daughter, Hodel. Of course, as long as Hodel was still Perchik’s wife, remarrying was out of the question, but if her rotten husband didn’t show up in a hurry with a promise to repent in his ways, Tevye was determined to demand a divorce.

Nachman didn’t complain about the overcrowded cottage, nor about the hard work, nor about having had to give up his job as a teacher. Even when his soft scholar’s hand turned calloused with blisters, he didn’t regret his decision to leave Rishon Le Zion for the remote and windy Morasha hillside.

“Blisters of redemption,” he called them.

“My tzaddik of a son-in-law,” Tevye called him.

While Tevye’s faith was as deep as any man’s, he wasn’t ashamed to complain now and again about injustices he saw in the world, especially when they were directed against him. But Nachman would never dream of such an irreverence. He turned everything into a mitzvah in the supreme commanment to settle the Holy Land. Guarding the yishuv in the middle of the night was a mitzvah. Walking two hours for a bucket of water was a mitzvah. And the back-breaking work in the fields was a mitzvah too. Why should his overcrowded cottage disturb him? Often, he let his sister-in-law, Hodel, sleep in his very own bed! He preferred sleeping outside under the stars just like his great forefather, Jacob.

Even when Nachman had to give up his morning learning to labor in the fields alongside the Arabs when a settler was sick, he didn’t complain. How else were the Jewish People to be redeemed from exile in foreign places if not through the strenuous work of rebuilding their own land? The Almighty was ready to do His part, but they had to do theirs. The Jews had to prove that they wanted the Land of Israel more than anything else in the world. A long time ago, their ancestors had abused the privilege of living in the land of milk and honey, and so, in punishment, God had taken it away and scattered them amongst the gentiles. Now that the Almighty was leading them back to the land of their forefathers, the Jews had to prove that they had learned their lesson.

As Shmuelik said, “What was better? Suffering in exile for

whatever crumbs a Jew could gather, or suffering for your own dearly loved soil?”

During his first year in the Holy Land, Tevye was more of a pragmatist. True, he had lived like a dog all of his life in Russia, but not every Jew lived off crumbs. The Baron Rothschild, for instance, with all of his billions, could hardly be said to be suffering.

“How do you know what headaches he has?” Shmuelik asked. “Haven’t our Sages taught us, ‘The more possessions, the more worries; the more money, the more thieves?’”

“That’s true,” Tevye admitted. “But all the same, I would be willing to change places with the Baron and worry about his railroads and yachts, while he sits here and tends to my cows.”

“Not me,” Shmuelik answered. “I would much rather have a wagon and mule in the Land of Israel than all of the railroads in France.”

The wonderful thing was that Shmuelik truly believed what he said. His optimism was a pillar of strength not only to Tevye, but to everyone in the settlement. If anyone had a personal problem, they would seek out Shmuelik’s advice, even though he was still a young man, If it were a matter of Jewish law, Nachman, the more serious scholar, was the person to ask. But if you needed someone to listen, then the good-natured Shmuelik was the address. And when people weren’t coming to him, he was going to them, always seeking to help others and to lend a neighborly hand.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Eight: Waiting for the Baron

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

When word arrived that Baron Edmond Rothschild was coming for a visit, with none other than the famous Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the colony turned into a frantic beehive of activity. Since the death of Theodor Herzl, Weizmann had become one of the driving forces behind the Zionist movement in Europe. The Russian-born chemist had become a leader of the World Zionist Congress, and his diplomatic skill, erudition, per­sonal magnetism, and dedication to the Zionist cause had won the respect of political leaders throughout the world. The rumor of the pending visit was started by the driver of the monthly supply wagon on one of his trips out of Zichron Yaacov. He said that the Baron and Weizmann were due to arrive in Palestine for an inspection of all of the settlements, and that the Morasha region was being considered as the next major development area of both the Keren Keyemet, Jewish National Fund, and the Jew­ish Colony Association. That meant a possible investment of millions and millions of francs to turn the quiet village of Morasha into a bustling agricultural center. The billionaire phi­lanthropist and the charismatic political leader were known to be friends, and if they were impressed by what they saw on their visit, it was almost certain that the Baron would spread money like fertiLazer throughout the hillsides of Morasha.

In the excitement, no one bothered to ask how the driver of the monthly supply wagon was privileged to such exclusive information. As the news spread from settler to settler, the dream of transforming the struggling yishuv into a model metropolis seemed absolutely assured. Someone said that the scientific-minded Weizmann planned to build a university on the crest of the Morasha hillside. Another said the area was slated to be turned into a modern industrial park. It was even rumored that the Baron Rothschild was thinking of Morasha as the site of a new summer mansion.

Hearing these wild fantasies, Tevye scoffed.

A boobe-miseh if I ever heard one,” he said. “And I sup­pose that the Mashiach is on his way too.”

His reference was to the Jewish messiah, whom the Jews had expected for two-thousand years. Faithful to the promises of the Prophets and Sages, the Jews waited for his coming every day. The Hasidim were especially on alert for his arrival. If nightfall came without a sign of his appearance, they took solace that certainly the Mashiach would come the very next day to usher in the awaited age of salvation. It was a dream Tevye had fostered every day of his life. He believed it with all of his soul. If only the Jews would return to their Maker in repentance, surely the scion of King David would come to rescue the downtrodden nation.

Tevye was far more skeptical regarding the coming of Baron

Rothschild.  But when the Company manager, LeClerc, arrived with the very same news, Tevye also caught the fast-spreading fever. His imagination proved as fertile as his neighbors. Not only would Morasha become the Paris of the Middle East, Tevye could very well become one of the wealthiest men in the region. Stranger things had happened in life. Hadn’t Joseph, the simple shepherd boy, become ruler of the mighty land of Egypt? Every schoolboy knew the story. And what was the secret of Joseph’s success? His dreams!

LeClerc assembled the settlers together outside of the barn as the sun sank over the distant ocean. The historic visit, he said, was just three days away. Because of political developments in Europe, the entourage had embarked sooner than planned. After brief stops in Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Yaacov, the Baron and the Doctor of Chemistry were arriving in Morasha to scout the site them­selves to determine if the expansive, virgin region could be transformed into a center of Jewish immigration for the hundreds of thousands of Jews whose lives were being threatened by the worsening persecutions in Russia.

Needless to say, LeClerc continued, it was imperative that the Morasha colony and its settlers put on their finest appear­ance. To this end, a shipment was due to arrive the next day with building supplies, paint, flowers and plants, new clothes for the settlers, and enough food to prepare a banquet for a king.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty-Seven: Hodel Leaves Perchik

Monday, February 18th, 2013

   Overnight, Tevye’s new cottage became a warm, haimisher home. In reality, the hastily built structure was merely a hut with a roof, but in the eyes of the newlyweds, it was a royal abode. The morning after the wedding, as if in a dream, the aroma of freshly baked bread awakened the groom. With a feeling of wonder, Tevye watched his beautiful wife prepare him a breakfast of goat’s cheese, olives, and the traditional Yemenite bread, malawach.      “You missed the morning minyan,” she said.

“That’s to be expected,” Tevye answered with a smile. “After all, I am a new chatan.” Indeed, he felt like a groom.

“Are you happy?” she asked.

“Very,” he answered. “I am the happiest man in the world.”

Carmel blushed and went back to the tiny brick oven in the corner of the hut which served as a kitchen. Tevye pulled a curtain along the cord which divided the sleeping area from the salon. He dressed and stepped outside to wash his hands and his face in a basin of water. Nachman and Shmuelik were learning in the synagogue when Tevye stepped in to pray. They stood up and shook Tevye’s hand and wished him more mazal tovs.”

“May your own wedding be soon,” Tevye said to Shmuelik.

“From your lips to God’s ears,” the bachelor responded.

“Why didn’t you wake me to pray with the others?” Tevye asked as he donned his tefillin.

“A chatan is a king for the first year of his marriage,” Nachman answered. “And a king deserves his rest. So we decided to go ahead without you.”

“Some king,” Tevye answered. “There is work to be done.”

“A one-day vacation won’t kill you. Take it easy. Go on a long walk with your wife. Don’t worry. Your work will be waiting for you.”

Tevye grumbled. It was true, he needed a rest. He felt like a ragged shmatte. With all of the tumult leading up to the wedding, his mind was as drained as his body. But, thank God, the demon had fled. Blessed with new insight, he realized that even that madness and the crazy scheme of the Muktar had been sent by the Lord, to rescue him from the barn and bring him to wed. Praise be the work of the Lord.

After davening, he returned to the house. With a shy, nervous blush, Carmel set his breakfast before him as if she were serving a king. Silently, she poured him a hot cup of tea. Before he had finished eating, she had already swept the floor. Then, without stopping for a moment, she hung a yellow curtain in the window and spread an embroidered quilt on their bed. Tevye had to rise up his feet as she unrolled the hand-woven rug which the Muktar had given them for a present. Not to sit idle and stare, Tevye unpacked the candlesticks he had brought from Anatevka and set them on the dresser which Reb Shilo had made. Originally, the candlesticks had belonged to his mother. When Tevye had married, she had given them to Golda.

“Every Sabbath evening, my wife, Golda, would light the Sabbath candles and say a special prayer, recalling my father and mother,” Tevye told his new wife.

“I will recall them also,” Carmel said softly.

Alongside the candlesticks, Tevye placed his Bible and the six volumes of Mishna which Nachman and Ruchel had given to the newlyweds as a gift. To help bring the blessing of Torah into Tevye’s new house, Reb Guttmacher had volunteered to come over every evening to study with the “chatan” as he liked to call Tevye. And, amazingly, Tevye felt like a groom. For the first time in ages, he looked forward to the mornings, as if he had a new lease on life. After all, would God have given him such a tender young ewe if his own end was near? Overnight, he felt strong and invincible, as he had as a youth. The Lord God of Israel was with him, filling him with a confidence and joy that he wanted to share with the world.

He even accomplished twice as much work in the field. Miraculously, his back stopped aching, and instead of crashing to sleep on the floor of the barn immediately after the evening prayers, the whole first week of the wedding, he and his bride feasted and celebrated with friends hours into the night. His joy was so great, he failed to notice that behind his Hodel’s smile was a deeply troubled heart. All through the week, she was silent, not wanting to spoil her father’s great joy. Of course, when Carmel’s brother, Yigal, had come to Shoshana to fetch her to the wedding, she had been astonished and pleased with the news. But it was hard to wear a smile when her own marriage was falling apart.

I’m Not Such a Bad Guy After All!

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

I know most of you think I’m just another pretty face. Others think that I’m just another hack blogger. And still others believe I’m like a bothersome fly that won’t go away. But the truth is that by the grace of God, I’m one of the most important novelists that the Jewish People have today. I’m not speaking about the bestselling darlings of the goyim, like Philip Roth, and those other mockers of Judaism and peddlers of assimilation. Sure, they know how to put a sentence together, but from a Torah point of view, their stuff is traif. Cut off from Torah, they write about sin and despair. In contrast, my novels are filled with an unabashed love for Torah, for tshuva, for the Holy One Blessed Be He, and for Eretz Yisrael. Plus, they’re all very well-written, inspiring, and packed with humor as well.

Like my novel, “Tevye in the Promised Land,” which the Jewish Press has been serializing. A sequel to “Fiddler on the Roof,” the inspiring, fun-filled saga takes Tevye the Milkman from his plundered village of Anatekva to the Holy Land, where he becomes a pioneer settler. One of the reasons I wrote the novel was because I realized that both Jewish students and their parents didn’t really know anything about this fantastic period of our history, a period filled with heroism and adventure.

So I took the world renowned character of Tevye and placed him and his daughters smack in the center of the early pioneer rebuilding of Israel, surrounded by colorful characters like the Baron Rothchild, Rabbi Kook, and David Ben Gurion. The novel won the Israel Ministry of Education Award for Creativity and Jewish Culture. It’s wonderful reading for the entire family, especially for teenagers. And you can read it for free, right here, at the Jewish Press.

To give you a taste, here’s an excerpt from this week’s chapter, which brings Tevye to Yafo to meet with Rabbi Kook, to ask his advice about a gift of money that was sent by the Baron to help him raise his orphaned grandchildren. Afterward, Tevye pays a visit to the nearby yeshiva where Hevedke, the gentile poet who wants to marry Hava, is studying toward his conversion:

From Chapter 22:

Arriving in Jaffa, they traveled straight to the house of Rabbi Kook. Once again, the Rabbi’s kindly wife led them into his study. Once again, Tevye was amazed by the aura of holiness which seemed to surround his saintly figure and suffuse the whole room. Rabbi Kook’s eyes shone with both a mystical light, and a kind, compassionate smile. He listened as Nachman explained the dilemma. Tevye waited anxiously for his answer.

“While it is true that the money is legally yours,” the Rabbi decreed, “to be clear of any possible doubt, it is, as you suggest, a prudent idea to write the Baron himself and hear what he has to say.”

Tevye frowned, but he didn’t dare refute the Rabbi’s advice. There was nothing to do except pray that the Baron would stand by his benevolent gesture.

“As to your decision to leave Rishon LeZion, you should not harbor any doubts,” the Rabbi said to Nachman as if sensing the uncertainty in his heart. “Thank God, Rishon LeZion is an established community, and another teacher of Torah can surely be found. But what you and your family are doing, venturing forth to build a new settlement, this is an act of supreme importance. The person who most sacrifices himself for the rebuilding of our Land will receive the most bountiful blessing in Heaven.”

Nachman blushed and lowered his head. Then, Rabbi Kook turned a profoundly serious glance at Tevye. Instinctively, the milkman looked around to see if the Rabbi were gazing at someone more important behind him. But there was no one else in the study. The words of the Rabbi were addressed directly to him.

“Until all of our scattered brethren come to settle in our uniquely Holy Land, each of us has to demand all that he can of himself. We must always remember, that the Land of Israel is only acquired through trial and suffering. However, the Almighty does not test a man with more difficulties than he can bear. On the contrary, He gives us the strength and the courage to persevere. If we encounter problems, tragedies, and setbacks, it does not mean that the path we have chosen is wrong, but rather that the Almighty, in His great love, is providing us with a test to strengthen our faith. When we cling to Him with love and with joy, even in difficult times, like our Forefathers did in the past, we rise up in His service to the holiest levels which a person can reach. And this closeness to God is a greater gift and blessing than all of the comfort and wealth in the world.”

Tevye nodded. His palms moistened with sweat. Was he made out of glass that the Rabbi could see all of his inner doubts and fears? He remembered Golda’s words, “Be strong, my husband, be strong.” All he could think about was getting out of the room before the scholar’s searing gaze transformed him into a pile of ashes. Then, a kind smile flashed over the Rabbi’s face, putting the milkman at ease.

“Your family is depending on you to be strong, Reb Tevye, and to show them that our allegiance to God and our holy traditions will forever be a beacon to light up whatever temporary darknesses that life sets in our path.”

Tevye turned the conversation to Hevedke. Rabbi Kook reported that he was learning day and night in a small yeshiva nearby, and his progress was truly astounding. Hearing this, Tevye was not overjoyed. In his heart of hearts, he harbored the hope that rigorous discipline of Talmudic studies would prove too much for the Russian poet’s mettle. Rabbi Kook said that the secret to life lay in a man’s will, and that Hevedke was driven by a passionate desire to overcome the barriers which lay in the path of every soul who sets forth to climb up the ladder of holiness.

“A passionate desire for my daughter,” Tevye thought, still unconvinced of Hevedke’s sincerity in becoming a Jew.

While Nachman lingered to converse with the Rabbi, one of the Rabbi’s disciples escorted Tevye from the house to the yeshiva where Hevedke was learning. Standing in the doorway of the Beit Midrash study hall, it wasn’t hard to pick out the blond Russian from the other dark-haired students. Sitting with his back facing Tevye, Hevedke’s head and broad shoulders towered over the lot. Bobbing back and forth like a Jew daveningin prayer, he listened in fervent concentration as the scholar across from him explained a polemic of Talmudic law. Hevedke’s study partner made a movement with his hand and his thumb, as if he were scooping up some insight from the pages of the large volume ofGemara which lay on the table between them. He glanced up at Tevye just long enough to cause Hevedke to turn and look up at the visitor. Seeing Hava’s father, the young Russian leaped up with a bright happy grin.

“Tevye!” he boomed.

All of the students looked up. The clamor of their learning turned to a hush. Hevedke rushed over to Tevye, grasped him in a bear hug, and lifted him off of his feet. “Tevye,” he said. “Reb Tevye!”

When Hevedke returned him back to the floor, Tevye stared into a strange, unfamiliar face. Hevedke’s smooth, angular jaw was now bearded. A yarmulka covered his head. But the very great difference lay in his eyes. Tevye couldn’t explain it, but they were not the same eyes he remembered. A beautiful light shone within them, as if a candle had been lit from inside. The face of Hevedke, the Russian, had vanished. Confronting Tevye was the face of a Jew. It’s a great book! Here’s the link to Chapter One for readers who want to start at the beginning. For free!

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