Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev-Chanukah 5770

שבת טעם החיים וישב-חנוכה תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev-Chanukah 5770

The flax and the straw

Introduction
וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו בארץ כנען אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף בן שבע עשרה שנה היה רועה את אחיו בצאן והוא נער את בני בלהה ואת בני זלפה נשי אביו ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם, Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan. These are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock, but he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father.
Rashi offers a fascinating insight to explain the juxtaposition of the end of last week’s parasha and the beginning of this week’s parasha. There is a parable where a person has camels laden with flax. The blacksmith wonders where all the flax can be stored. A clever person responded to the blacksmith that one spark from the smithy’s hammer will consume all of the flax. Similarly, at the end of last week’s parasha the Torah records the chiefs of Esav. Figuratively, Yaakov observed all these chiefs and wondered how it would be possible to conquer them. For this reason this week’s parasha begins with the verse these are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef. It is written (Ovadiah 1:18) vihayah veis Yaakov eish uveis Yosef lehavah uveis Esav likash, the house of Yaakov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esav for straw. A spark will go forth from Yosef that will consume all of Esav’s chiefs. What is the significance of this parable? Would it not have been sufficient for Rashi to state that Yosef is the one whose descendants will destroy Esav? Furthermore, this idea is reflected in a verse that states (Ibid verse 21) vialu moshiim bihar Tziyon lishpot es har Esav vihayasa laHaShem hamleucha, and saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mountain of Esav, and the kingdom will be HaShem’s. One of the commentators writes that the word saviors, in the plurals sense, refers to Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid. Thus, one must wonder why Rashi needed to draw on the metaphor of the flax and the spark of fire.
The struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav foreshadowed the struggle of the Greeks against the Jewish People
In order to gain insight into the words of Rashi, it is worthwhile to examine the time of the year when this week’s parasha occurs. The festival of Chanukah always occurs between the parshiyos of Vayeishev and Mikeitz. It is noteworthy that the gematria of the word Vayeishev is 318 and the gematria of the word Mikeitz is 230. When one subtracts 230 from 318, the result is 88, the gematria of the word Chanukah (89). Furthermore, the festival of Chanukah is always preceded by Parashas Vayishlach, so in a sense, we must study the parasha of Vayishlach as a preparation for Chanukah. One of the highlights of Parashas Vayishlach is the episode where Yaakov encounters the angel of Esav and battles with him. It is said ((Bereishis 32:25) vayivaseir Yaakov livado vayeiavek ish imo ad alos hashachar; vayar ki lo yochol lo vayiga bikaf yireicho vateika kaf yerech Yaakov biheiavko imo, Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov’s hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him. Rashi (Verse 25) writes that the reason that Yaakov was left alone was because he had gone back for pachim ketanim, small jars. The commentators write that this alludes to the miracle of Chanukah, when the Chashmonaim searched the Bais HaMikdash and discovered a flask of oil that was sealed with a seal of the Kohen Gadol. The next verse states that Yaakov remained alone. Rabbeinu Bachye writes that the word livado can also be read likado, for his flask. One explanation of this cryptic statement is that Yaakov returned for “his flask,” i.e. the Chashmonaim searched for and found a flask of oil. It is noteworthy that the word livad equals 36 in gematria, and that corresponds to the amount of lights that we kindle on Chanukah (excluding the Shamash). The word vayeiavek is literally translated as “and he wrestled.” However, the root of the word is avak, similar to the word avukah, which means a flame. Thus, the struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav foreshadowed the struggle that would occur in the future between the Greek-Rome ideologies and the Jewish People.
The confluence of Roman and Greek culture is alluded to in the Torah
A hint to the association between Esav and Yavan, the forerunner of Greece, can be found in the blessing that Yitzchak conferred on Esav. It is said (Ibid 27:39) vayaan Yitzchak aviv vayomer eilav hinei mishmanei haaretz yihiyeh moshavecho umital hashamayim meial, so Yitzchak his father answered, and said to him: “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above. Rashi writes that the fatness of the earth refers to Italia shel Yavan, an area in Southern Italy (see ArtScroll Chumash with Rashi for further explanation). Thus, it is clear that Esav inherited the geographical land of Greece, and it is well known that Roman culture was influenced by Greek culture. (A further hint to this idea can be found at the end of Parashas Vayishlach where the Torah records the Chiefs of Esav. It is said (Ibid 36:43) aluf Magdiel aluf Aram, the chief of Magdiel and the chief of Iram. Rashi writes that Magdiel is Rome. The word Magdiel equals 88 in gematria, the same as the word Chanukah (89).
Yosef, ‘to add,’ is symbolic of the Chanukah lighting
Now that we see the association between Esav-Rome and Yavan-Greece, we can better understand why Rashi chose the metaphor of the flax and the spark of fire from the blacksmith. When one peruses the Mishnah, there is only one explicit reference to the lighting of candles on Chanukah. This is found in a Mishnah at the end of the sixth chapter of Bava Kama (6:6), where the Mishnah discusses a case in which flax carried by a camel catches fire from Chanukah candles placed in front of a store. This Mishnah, similar to Rashi in the beginning of Parsha Vayeishev, also hints to an important component of the Chanukah miracle, which is the association between Esav-Rome and Yavan-Greece. The confluence of the two nation’s cultures is ultimately consumed by the flame of the fire, and this is one of the underlying messages of the Chanukah miracle. The fire is reflected in Yaakov, and the flame is symbolized by Yosef. It is ultimately Yosef who will be the one that destroys the Esav-Rome and Yavan-Greece influence on the Jewish People. While Esav and Yavan symbolized materialism and physical gratification, Yosef, referred to as Yosef HaTzaddik, reflected abstinence and Shemiras HaBris, the Guardian of the Covenant, i.e. circumcision. Yosef is associated with the attribute of Yesod, Foundation, which reflects the resistance of one who is tempted by immoral sin. It is noteworthy that every night of Chanukah we add a candle to our lighting, and the name Yosef means to add. We are not merely making our house a warmer place to reside in. Rather, we are demonstrating that we understand our life mission as one of constantly ascending in matters of holiness and purity. This is the message of the Chanukah candles and the victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greeks and their culture.
The Shabbos connection
In a similar vein, a Jewish woman lights candles on Friday afternoon, and the flames continue to burn throughout Shabbos evening. Yaakov reflects the fire of Shabbos, whereas Yosef reflects Tosefes Shabbos, the add-on time to Shabbos. HaShem should allow us to merit the lighting of the Menorah in the Bais HaMikdash, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos Stories

Rav Yaakov Neiman Zt”l Teaches Us The Tools Of The Trade
“Ein Davar HaOmed Lifnei HaRatzon.” There is nothing that stands in the way of one’s will. Many Gedolim testified to their weak mental capabilities in their youth. Yet their sheer desire turned them into Gedolei Yisroel. Burning desire as a yardstick for success is illustrated in the following story.
There was a boy who came from a family that was not very Torah oriented, and lived in a non-religious community in Eretz Yisroel. Despite his less than stellar Torah education, the boy had a great desire to learn Torah and when it came time to go to a post high school Yeshiva, war broke out in his home over his decision. Reluctantly his mother traveled with him to the famous yeshiva Ohr Yisroel in Petach Tikva.
The Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yaakov Neiman Zt”l tested the boy and then came out to report to his mother that the boy lacked the background and the tools to be successful in their Yeshiva. The Yeshiva was not equipped to train young men on his level. He suggested another Yeshiva that he thought would be more appropriate.

Listening to the conversation from the side, the boy burst out crying. Surprised, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to him and asked him why he was crying. He told the Rosh Yeshiva how hard he fought to convince his mother to let him come for an interview. Now that he was rejected, there was no guarantee that he would be able to convince his parents to let him take a test at the next Yeshiva.
Immediately the Rosh Yeshiva turned to the mother and told her that her son was accepted to the Yeshiva. The mother then asked a bit perturbed, but I thought your Yeshiva is not capable of properly teaching my son? The Rosh Yeshiva answered that he rejected him before he burst out into tears because his knowledge base was lacking. However the greatest tool for success in learning in heartfelt desire. Desire can make up for any deficiency and he will no doubt see great success from his learning.
Whether we are teenagers or middle age men or even seniors who have never seen success in learning, it is not too late. Yes, we may not be brilliant, nor do we have many tools, but desire is possible at any age and it will take us to wherever we want to go. It is HaShem’s Torah and he gives it to those who really want it.
Mazel Tov to Kaiser Wilhelm! - Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg
Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg was a talmid of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the author of the renowned HaKesav ViHakabala on Chumash. He was the Rav of Königsberg in Germany and apparently fearless as the following story suggests.
The Rav, Rav Yaakov Tzvi was invited to officiate at the wedding of a girl from a liberal home. The girl refused to follow the requirements necessary for a Bas Yisroel to prepare for her wedding. Because of this Rav Yaakov Tzvi refused to officiate at the wedding. However, with pressure from the government, Rav Yaakov Tzvi was forced to do so and he finally relented.
Rav Yaakov Tzvi stood under the Chupah and said to the Choson for him to repeat to the Kallah the standard language of kedushin, “Harei at mikudeshes li” you are married to me. Then he continued and instead of saying, “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel,” Rav Yaakov Tzvi said, “Kidas Kaiser Wilhelm the Great!” An uproar ensued as the befuddled Mechutanim demanded that he explain why he did not say “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel.” He calmly explained that this wedding was not “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel” since according to Toras Moshe a kallah must prepare herself in the Jewish way. This wedding and his presence was purely on the say so of the Kaiser so he made sure to use the correct and appropriate words attributing the wedding vows to whom they in fact belonged.
Rav Yaakov Tzvi held his position and refused to budge. Without any other options the wedding was cancelled and held at a later date after the girl made all the proper preparations... and Rav Yaakov Tzvi proudly officiated the Chasuna “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel.” Yehi Zichro Boruch! (Reprinted with permission from www.Revach.net)
What about a back-up plan?
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: I would like to share an incident that I heard in the name of Reb Chatzkel Besser. He personally heard this story from the Sadegerer Rebbe in Tel Aviv.
So much of life is being in the right place at the right time or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Sadegerer Rebbe had to be in Vienna on Shabbos Parashas Zachor, March 12, 1938. That was a very inopportune Shabbos to be in Vienna. On that Friday the brown shirted Nazis marched into Vienna and ransacked Jewish homes. Subsequently, the Nazis invaded Vienna and that was the beginning of the end for Viennese Jewry.
[Ironically, the famous Reichman Family was also in Vienna in 1938. That Shabbos was supposed to be the Bar Mitzvah of the eldest brother Edward Reichman. Unfortunately - or at least what they thought was unfortunate at the time – Mrs. Reichman’s father who still lived in Hungary (in Beled) had a stroke. They wanted very much that the grandfather should be at the Bar Mitzvah, but he was in no condition to travel to Vienna. So the week before the Bar Mitzvah the Reichman family with three of their children left Vienna to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah in Hungary. Samuel Reichman (the father) never stepped foot in Vienna again. That is how he was able to make it out of Europe. He fortuitously happened to be in Hungary.]
The Sadegerer Rebbe had no such luck. The brown shirted Nazis zeroed in on every prominent Jew they could find. They grabbed Jews out of cabs out of shuls, out of every place they could find them. They captured the Sadegerer Rebbe. This is the background to the story I want to tell. I will relate what happened to him very soon.
Years later, Reb Chatzkel Besser visited Tel Aviv. Early one morning, he was walking into the shteibel of the Sadegerer Rebbe. He noticed the Jewish street cleaner sweeping the street and the sidewalk on the block of the shteibel. When the street cleaner reached the sidewalk immediately in front of the shteibel, he stopped sweeping, walked past the shul, and then resumed his cleaning operation on the next block.
Reb Chatzkel Besser sensed anti-religious discrimination here and went over to the street cleaner and objected. “What’s wrong with this piece of sidewalk?” The street cleaner responded “HaRebbe lo noten reshus” (The Rebbe does not allow me to sweep there.) Reb Chatzkel Besser did not believe him and repeated his question to which the street cleaner repeated the same answer.
He thought the street cleaner was making up the story or just being lazy. He went into the Rebbe and asked him directly “Why won’t the street cleaner sweep in front of your shteibel?” The Rebbe put him off and did not give him a straight answer. This was Friday morning. He kept badgering the Rebbe Friday night, Shabbos morning, Shabbos afternoon: “What does it mean ‘HaRebbe lo noten reshus’?”
At the end of Shabbos the Rebbe explained the true story to his guest. When he was in Vienna that Shabbos in March 1938 the Nazis took him and dressed him up in one of the uniforms of the street cleaners of Vienna and they gave him a tiny little broom. They placed him by the steps of the Vienna Opera House and ordered him to clean every step.
Of course, this was a humiliating experience for the Rebbe. He was wearing one of those little street cleaner’s caps and essentially holding a tooth brush, cleaning the massive steps of the Vienna landmark. He related that at that moment he made a “deal” with the Ribbono shel Olam. He said, “Master of the Universe, if You help me escape from here I promise You I will sweep the streets of Eretz Yisrael.”
He made it out and he kept his promise. When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael and set up a shteibel there, he accepted upon himself that he would not let anyone sweep outside his shteibel – he would do it himself. Every day, he would sweep the sidewalk in front of his shul because of the deal he made with the Almighty, in the tradition of Yaakov Avinu.
Speech Lessons
Rabbi Abraham Twersky writes: One Shabbos, the Chafetz Chaim lodged at an inn, and the innkeeper, not knowing his identity, seated him at a table with several other guests who were horse traders. At every meal, the conversation was about horses. After Shabbos, someone informed the innkeeper of the identity of this guest. The innkeeper apologized to the Chafetz Chaim for having exposed him to such unrefined company. The Chafetz Chaim, “To the contrary, I was very pleased to sit with them. You see, they spoke only about horses, not about people!”
Rabbi Yosef Kahanamen, related that the Chafetz Chaim once sent for him and said, “I have just sold a number of my books and I have some money. Some people who ask me to lend them money are completely untrustworthy, and never repay a loan. One is not obligated to lend money to dishonest people. However, I cannot tell them that I do not have any money, because that is a lie. Therefore, I want to give you all my money as a legally-binding gift, so when I say that I do not have any money, I will not be lying.”
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein was a close friend and admirer of Rabbi Yitzchak Sher. When the latter died, it was assumed that Rabbi Levenstein would eulogize him, but to everyone's astonishment, he refused. He later explained, “Just recently I lost a dear grandchild. I felt that in my eulogy I might be overcome with the grief over my grandchild, and I might cry. The audience would think that I am crying because of the death of Rabbi Sher, and I would be guilty of giving a false impression.”[Reprinted with permission from www.Torah.org]
Kiddush HaShem with an X-mas tree
Rabbi Frand closed with a story he heard from Rabbi Abish Brodt about a reception in honor of Rabbi Wein in Detroit which included many important people including the Editor of the Detroit Free Press. The Editor had a history of being very pro-Israel and he asked for (and received) an opportunity to address the gathering.
The Editor told the following story - when his mother came to this country from Ireland in the 1920s, she took a job as a housekeeper for a Jewish family who happened to live next door to a shul. She knew that the family was going out of town and would not be returning until December 23rd. She was concerned that getting back this late, they would not be able to get a “proper tree.” She felt bad for them as they had always taken such care of her, so she went out and bought a tree and trimmed it with green and red lights and tinsel and put it in the front of the house.

The family came home and saw the tree and had two possible ways of dealing with the situation. Either they could demand that the tree be removed immediately, or they could deal with it much more sensitively. The head of the family chose the second approach - telling the woman that her act had been an incredibly thoughtful one which should be rewarded. He told her that he was going to give her a bigger bonus because of her actions and gave her a $50 bill (quite sizable for the 1920’s). He then told her that unfortunately, there is no tree in our religion and that they could not keep it in their home, but still her act had been very thoughtful and they were touched.
The Editor related that his mother always spoke warmly about the Jews and the Tree and how respectfully they had treated her. He felt that this had influenced his view of Jews and continued to have an impact so many years later. (From the internet)


It’s Not Exactly So
Reb Yakov Yosef of Polonoye, the Baal Shem Tov’s famous student, was an extremely serious, intense and very exacting person. He once became so upset, that he stopped corresponding with his friend R. Mendel Horodoker. (Some say with the Besht).
Once as Reb Yakov Yosef travelled by coach, he saw a Jew trudging along the road, and invited him up to ride on the wagon. But instead of sitting down on the regular seat, the guest preferred to squat on a small box. In response to Reb Yakov Yosef’s amazement, the Jew replied: “We say three times a day: “Ashrei Haam shekacha Lo: (Tehillim 144:15). Fortunate is the person who is happy with whatever he has.” (Editor’s note: the correct translation is: praiseworthy is the people for whom this is so).
Reb Yaakov Yosef soon received a letter from Reb Mendel: ‘Since you stopped communicating with me, I had to send you my message through Eliyahu HaNavi.’ (http://www.saratogachabad.com/NP/RebMoshe/Vertlach.htm)
The Vanished Flame
Despite the Chassid’s shocking physical state, his eyes sparkled with joy.
It was the first night of Chanukah. Outside a snowstorm raged, but inside it was tranquil and warm. The Rebbe, Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, stood in front of the menorah, surrounded by a crowd of his Chassidim. He recited the blessings with great devotion, lit the single candle, placed the shammash (“servant candle”) in its designated place, and began to sing HaNairos Halalu. His face radiated holiness and joy; the awed Chassidim stared intently at him.
The flame of the candle was burning strongly. Rebbe and Chassidim sat nearby and sang Maoz Tzur and other Chanukah songs. All of a sudden, the candle began to flicker and leap wildly, even though there wasn’t the slightest breeze in the house. It was as if it were dancing. Or struggling. And then, it disappeared!
It didn’t blow out - there was no smoke, it just was not there anymore. It was as if it flew off somewhere else. The Rebbe himself seemed lost in thought. His attendant went over to re-light the wick, but the Rebbe waved him off.
He motioned to the Chassidim to continue singing. Several times, between tunes, the Rebbe spoke words of Torah. The evening passed delightfully, and the Chassidim present had all but forgotten the disappearing Chanukah candle.
It was nearly midnight when the harsh sound of carriage wheels grating on the snow and ice exploded the tranquility. The door burst open and in came a Chassid who hailed from a distant village. His appearance was shocking. His clothes were ripped and filthy, and his face was puffy and bleeding. And yet, in stark contrast to his physical state, his eyes were sparkling and his features shone with joy.
He sat down at the table, and with all eyes upon him, began to speak excitedly. “This isn’t the first time I came to Mezhibuz by the forest route, and I know the way very well. But there was a terrible snow storm this week, which greatly slowed my advance. I began to worry that I wouldn’t get here in time to be with the Rebbe for the first night of Chanukah. The thought disturbed me so much, I decided not to wait out the storm, but to plod ahead and travel day and night, in the hope that I could reach my destination on time.
“That was a foolish idea, I must admit, but I didn’t realize that until too late. Last night, I ran into a gang of bandits, who were quite pleased to encounter me. They figured if I was out in this weather, at night, alone, I must be a wealthy merchant whose business could not brook delay. They demanded that I surrender to them all of my money.
“I tried to explain, I pleaded with them, but they absolutely refused to believe I had no money. They seized the reins of my horses and leapt on my wagon. They sat themselves on either side of me to keep me under close surveillance, and then drove me and my wagon off to meet their chief to decide my fate.
“While they waited for their chief to arrive, they questioned and cross-examined me in great detail, searched me and the wagon, and beat me, trying to elicit the secret of where I had hidden my money. I had nothing to tell them except the truth, and that they weren’t prepared to accept.
“After hours of this torture, they bound me and threw me, injured and exhausted, into a dark cellar. I was bleeding from the wounds they inflicted, and my whole body ached in pain. I lay there until the evening, when the gang leader came to speak with me.
“I tried to the best of my ability to describe to him the great joy of being in the Rebbe’s presence, and how it was so important to me to get to the Rebbe by the start of the holiday that it was worth it to endanger myself by traveling at night.
“It seems that my words made an impression in him, or else he was persuaded by my adamancy even under torture. But whichever it was, thank G-d he released me from the handcuffs, saying:
“ ‘I sense that your faith in G-d is strong and your longing to be with your Rebbe is genuine and intense. Now we shall see if this is the truth. I am going to let you go, but you should know that the way is extremely dangerous. Even the most rugged people never venture into the heart of the forest alone, only in groups, and especially not in a storm and at night. You can leave and try your luck. And I am telling you, if you get through the forest and the other terrible conditions safely, unharmed by the ferocious wild beasts or anything else, then I will break up my gang and reform my ways.
“ ‘If you actually reach the outskirts of the city, then throw your handkerchief into the ditch next to the road, behind the signpost there. One of my men will be waiting, and that is how I will know that you made it.’
“I then became terrified all over again. The hardships I had already endured were seared into my soul, and now even more frightening nightmares awaited me. But when I thought about how wonderful it is to be with the Rebbe at the menorah lighting, I shook off all my apprehensions and resolved not to delay another moment. My horse and carriage were returned to me and I set off on my way.
“There was total darkness all around. I could hear the cries of the forest animals, and they sounded close. I feared that I was surrounded by a pack of vicious wolves.
“I crouched down over my horse’s neck and spurred him on. He refused to move in the pitch blackness. I lashed him. He didn’t budge.
“I had no idea what to do. At that moment, a small light flickered in front of the carriage. The horse stepped eagerly towards it. The light advanced. The horse followed. All along the way, the wild animals fled from us, as if the tiny dancing flame was driving them away.
“We followed that flame all the way here. I kept my end of the bargain and threw my handkerchief at the designated place. Who knows? Perhaps those cruel bandits will change their ways, all in the merit of that little light.”
It was only then that the Chassidim noticed that the Rebbe’s Chanukah light had returned. There it was, burning in the elaborate menorah, its flame strong and pure as if it had just been lit.
Biographical note: Rabbi Baruch was born in 1753 in Mezhibuz, the town from which his illustrious grandfather, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, led the Chassidic Movement which he founded. Rabbi Baruch was the son of the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter, Adel, and her husband, Rabbi Yechiel Ashkenazi. He was one of the pre-eminent rebbes in the generation of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch and had thousands of Chassidim.
(Translated and retold by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavuah #53. Rabbi Tilles is co-founder and educational coordinator of ASCENT OF SAFED, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the Ascent Website.)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev-Chanukah 5770
is sponsored by my dear friend Rabbi Dovid Neiman from Chicago in honor of the birth of our son this week.
Shalom Zachar Im Yirtzeh HaShem at our house Friday night 26100 Marlowe Place in Oak Park.
Simchos by all of Klal Yisroel, culminating in the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a magnificent and illuminating Chanukah
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1 comment:

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