Tag Archives: Jeremiah

The Best Bedtime Stories

Bo sigart by Laya Crust

Parshat Bo: Exodus, chapter 10 -13

Haftarah: Jeremiah  46: 13 -28

The Best Bedtime Stories

Story time is one of the best times of the day.  We are transported to magical places. We meet extraordinary people and see things we would never come across on a typical day. Stories make time enchanting when reality is boring. You need to get someone to brush teeth? Tell a story. The wait in the doctor’s office is hours long? Tell a story. The car ride isn’t ending? Tell a story.

Our family’s favourite source of stories was Tanach (the Jewish Bible). Between the angels, the giants, the talking snakes and the trickery, what could be more exciting?

Take this week’s Torah reading. Our heroes are Moses and Aaron, two poor brothers, who were on a quest to free a nation of slaves. The downtrodden  slaves were in the grasp of a powerful ruler, the Pharaoh of Egypt. To Pharaoh’s surprise Moses and Aaron had managed to turn the water in Egypt to blood, bring millions of frogs into the cities and fields, create an infestation of lice, and destroy the spring crops with balls of flaming hail.

This week’s episode have the brothers confronting Pharaoh again.  Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ” How long are you going to be so stubborn? If you don’t let the slaves go God is going to send locusts.” The plague of locusts attacked the land, and destroyed all the crops the hail had left. That was followed by a darkness so thick the darkness could be touched. Neither Egyptians nor their animals could see or move for 3 days and three nights.

darkness 20048painting by Laya Crust

Even so, Pharaoh refused to be threatened. He raised himself up and through gritted teeth proclaimed, “Get away from me. Take heed of yourself. Never approach me again. For on the day you see my face again, you will die!” And Moses answered, “You have spoken well. I will see your face again no more.”

Then the two brothers rushed to the slaves, told them to grab their belongings and get ready for the dangerous road to freedom.

What a story!

babiesarava, challah 







So do yourself a favour. Get a comfy couch, a couple of cuddly kids, some milk and cookies. Then open up your friendly bible to Exodus chapter 10. It’s a great read . Be warned, it can get a little sad or scary at parts. That’s part of the adventure too.

Come back next week- same time, same place, and you’ll see what new exploration we may embark upon.


Artist in Residence,  The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles, Toronto     website http://www. layacrust.com


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Jeremiah 2:4– 28; 3:4;  4:1-2

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -.586 BCE.

Haftarat Masei is the second “Haftarah of Rebuke” and is read during the “Three Weeks of Mourning” (17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av).

The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in both the parsha and the haftarah, so that became the theme  for this week’s painting. The route  is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout. Although they didn’t always follow Gd’s rules, after 40 years they arrived in the Promised Land.

In the haftarah the prophet Jeremiah reminds B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7). However, reproach is the real message of the haftarah.

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived through a tumultuous time in Jewish history. His life spanned the reign of 5 kings- Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. It was a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, using very direct and damning language. At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. The majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah, who never married and was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt. He continued his prophecies from Egypt and died there.

The haftarah begins with the word “Shim-u”- “Listen” or “Hear” the word of Gd. The rabbis remind us that these words are reminiscent of “na’asei v’nishma” –we will do and we will hear– the words B’nei Yisrael used at Sinai to affirm their covenant with Gd. The word “Eich”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “Eicha”- the name of the book we read on Tisha B’Av.

There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminds B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd brought them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”

In the midst of what is happening in Israel the messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Brave Israelis are fighting for our survival, for the right to live on our land and for the existence of our crops, our farms, our education and our nationhood.  As well as fighting physically for our survival we are reminded to act morally and do good deeds- an echo from Jeremiah’s prophecies.

May the battles be over soon. May there be no more loss of life. May Israel live in peace and security, unbothered by bombs and rockets.  And may we all endeavor to live a life of goodness and be an “ohr l’goyim”  (“a light unto the nations”).

Shabbat Shalom.

This haftarah is dedicated to Noam ben Nicole.

On a side note,  there is a program pairing people with soldiers and people on guard duty in Israel called The Shmira Project. Go to http://www.shmiraproject.com/SignUp.aspx.  You then pray and/or perform mitzvot with that soldier in mind, asking Gd to answer your good deeds with protection for that soldier.   There is no charge, and it takes 30 seconds to sign up.

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Mattot and the Three Weeks


Jeremiah 1:1- 2:3

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE – 586 BCE

This week we observed the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the beginning of the Three Weeks of mourning. The haftarah readings during the three weeks  include sections from the book of Jeremiah and the book of Isaiah.  Mattot is the first of the three readings, introducing us to the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship. He told the people  the Temple would be destroyed and they would be exiled  but the Israelites ignored him.  At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. The majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon.

The haftarah describes Jeremiah’s conversation with Gd. The prophet’s mouth is touched by Gd’s hand, and then he successively has a vision of a flowering almond branch and a boiling cauldron. This is reminiscent of Isaiah’s mouth being touched by an angel. The almond branch represents Jeremiah’s link to Aaron the kohen and the boiling cauldron from the north represents destruction coming from the north.

 Jeremiah tried to warn the Jews about the destruction of the Temple and their fate at the hands of their enemies but the Jews wouldn’t believe him.

I tried to think of a parallel situation where a Jew tried to warn his brethren of upcoming disaster to the nation but he or she was ignored. I remembered two individuals who lived at the time of the Second World War and attempted to rally Western Jews to put political pressure on their governments and spur them to save the Jews of Europe.  M.J. Nurenberger  was a journalist  who attempted to mobilize individuals and organizations to fight for the survival of Jews under the Nazi regime.  He wrote, met, and organized tirelessly but met with political stonewalling.  He wrote a book about his experiences called “The Scared and the Doomed”.   Arthur Szyk, an artist, used his art  to disseminate the message of Nazi goals and brutality. There are messages in his political cartoons, illustrated Haggadah and illustrated megillot.

This photograph was taken in New York in 1944 at the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.   Nurenberger is in the 1st row, 1st on the left.  Szyk is in the 2nd row, 1st on the left.

M. J. Nurenberger with Einstein            Szyk  self-portrait , drawing the enemy


We are always at risk it seems- look at what is happening in Israel and Europe today. There are those visionaries who try to help and warn us. May we see a sustained peace for Jews, Israel,  and all humanity soon.

On a side note,  there is a program pairing people with soldiers and people on guard duty in Israel called The Shmira Project. Go to http://www.shmiraproject.com/SignUp.aspx.  You then pray and/or perform mitzvot with that soldier in mind, asking G-d to answer your good deeds with protection for that soldier.  (My soldier’s name is Noam ben Nicole.) There is no charge, and it takes 30 seconds to sign up.

Shabbat Shalom, and may these three weeks be for healing and peace.



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Jeremiah  16:19 – 17:14

Jeremiah- prophet, ca 640 – 568 BCE

Jeremiah lived in the ancient land of Judah at a very difficult time for the Jews. He began to prophecy when he was 18 during the reign of King Josiah.  A scroll was found in the Temple and King Josiah re-established Jewish law- much to the displeasure of the idol worshiping law-ignoring Israelites.

Jeremiah begins this haftarah by telling B’nei Yisrael that their sins are written on their hearts and they will be punished. He continues by saying that those who depend only on men will be like a tree that grows on parched land in the wilderness. But one who trusts in God will be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads its roots by the river.  He goes on to say that the tree will be calm in the year of drought. The terminology is beautiful, giving the tree emotion and human feeling.

The prophet Jeremiah was not respected. He was a tragic figure. He spent his life lonely- unmarried, unpopular, and derided. He so wanted to help the Jewish people that he dictated his prophecies to his scribe Baruch and had them read to the current king, King Jehoiakim. The scrolls were burned so Jeremiah had them written and presented again.

Jeremiah was an idealist.  He spent his entire life trying to reawaken faith in the hearts of the Jews.  He preached peace and encouraged compliance  to a population that wanted war and revolt. He was imprisoned for his outspoken support of observance to God, and ultimately had to flee to Egypt after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Israel.  Jeremiah died in exile, in Egypt.

Maybe Jeremiah is like that tree of uprightness that he spoke aboout in this week’s haftarah. He led a difficult and sad life but his words lived on. His thoughts were strong like a tree, nourished by the waters of truth.  His ideas continued to grow and nurture even in times of drought. And we still read Jeremiah’s words and learn from them.

Share these thoughts on the Haftarah and Jeremiah on Facebook, and with your friend, family and students. Have a Shabbat Shalom,





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Mishpatim sigJeremiah 34: 8-22, 33: 25-26

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -.586 BCE.

Parshat Mishpatim follows the parsha in which G-d gives the Ten Commandments to b’nei Yisrael on Mount Sinai. The first commandment is commonly translated as “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” It is fascinating that G-d could have introduced and described Himself in many ways. What did he choose? He chose “Who took you out of the land of slavery”

This parsha begins to describe various of G-d’s laws and the first laws discussed are about slavery.

Judaism gave the world its moral code. The Ten Commandments deal with many things from recognizing one G-d to keeping the Sabbath, to the prohibition of murder, theft, and adultery. Why then would the first laws that are discussed in the Torah concern slavery?

If you remember, the Israelites had just been released from Egypt where they had been enslaved. Those many years of servitude had been imprinted on their psyche. When G-d introduces Himself to the Israelites He uses slavery as part of the introduction. “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of slavery.” Bondage was obviously in the forefront of the Israelites’ minds. G-d knew that laws concerning slavery would resonate strongly with the Children of Israel. Consequently it was a wise strategy to introduce a moral code starting with issues of slavery.

The haftarah for Mishpatim is from the Book of Jeremiah. It is set during the final siege of Jerusalem. In 588 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded Jerusalem. King Zedekiah ordered the release of all Jewish slaves, thinking this might reverse the conquest of Judaea. Two years later, when things had calmed down slightly, the slave owners re-intered their slaves. G-d  told Jeremiah that since the people had put men and women back into servitude they would be punished.

– oneworldeducation.org

 When thinking about an illustration for this week’s haftarah I thought about the laws of servitude and what freedom would mean to an individual. Then I thought about modern slavery- the notorious sweatshops in China. The chained children in India who weave carpets, the slave trade in prostitution,  the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh last year. How could I remind people that even in modern times Jews, too, have been the victims of slavery and have been involved in it. I remembered the tragic situation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire.

The slave conditions of sweatshop workers in the “shmatteh” business are well documented.  Young immigrants from Europe were put to work there. The hours were long, the pay was miserly, and the workers would be locked in so they couldn’t take breaks for lunch or supper, or meet with union leaders to organize. Although the workers were not “owned “by their employers as they were in biblical times- they were owned by their employers in terms of their lives.

2811 × 1919 – en.wikipedia.org

My illustration at the top of the page shows the infamous fire in 1911 at New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company. It killed 146 young sweatshop workers; most of whom were Jewish immigrant girls aged 16 – 23. The image of the workers is based on a photograph of the young women and men striking, trying to get better working conditions.

P1110081I took these two photographs of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Building, now called the Brown Building. It has two plaques on its  exterior memorializing the fire and its victims.


It is fitting that many of the union organizers throughout time and throughout the world have been Jews, and just as G-d commanded us not to enslave and torture others, Jews have fought throughout history for human and employee rights. Human dignity, respecting other people, and treating all humans as equals are concepts central to Judaism. Jewish laws are concerned with those ideas and have communicated them to cultures around the world. We are a people who believe in justice and freedom and will continue to work for it and fight for it. Our stubbornness in this particular arena is a stubbornness we can all be proud of.

“Five Thousand Years of Slavery” by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen gives a thorough history of world slavery with fascinating photographs and reprinted documents. It is a great educational tool for home or school.

2700 × 2700 – openbookontario.com


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Bo- (or Be Careful What You Wish For)

Bo sig

Jeremiah 46: 13-28

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -586 BCE

Do you remember the short story by W. W. Jacobs called “The Monkey’s Paw”? We read it in school. It’s a chilling story about wishes that are granted by a mysterious monkey’s paw. The wishes are indeed granted but in horrifying ways with devastating results.

Many of us have experienced odd weather in the last few weeks. December arrived without a snowflake in Toronto, Canada where I live. Many people wished for a “White Christmas” or skiing weather for the winter break. Their prayers answered. We had extraordinary snow and ice storms in North America that moved all the way from the mid west to the east coast.

 Trees and plants encased encased in ice were beautiful,


but the blackouts and lack of heat and electricity were quite difficult- especially for those people who went without power for 10 days. 


And of course Israelis and others around the world saw their share of devastating beauty with the snow and ice storms and flash floods they experienced only a month ago.

That brings me to this week’s parsha and haftarah. In parshat Bo,  Moshe as                                      G-d’s mouthpiece warns Pharaoh that if he doesn’t free the children of Israel there will be dire consequences. Three more plagues are visited upon the Egyptians. After the plagues of locusts and darkness Pharaoh loses patience with Moses. He wants the threats and the plagues to stop. Menacingly, Pharaoh proclaims to Moshe , “Go from before me, take heed of yourself. See my face no more- for on the day you see my face you will die.” Moshe  answers, “You have spoken well. I will not see your face again.” Pharaoh’s threat is taken seriously. He will never see Moshe again, but the payoff is that his eldest son- and the eldest of all Egyptians die.  Pharaoh’s wish came true- but it came at a horrific price.

The haftarah is from the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived most of his life in Israel, witnessing both sieges of Jerusalem (597 and 586). In this haftarah, after the fall of the First Temple, he warns the Children of Israel not to ally themselves with Egypt. He prophesies that Egypt will fall under the hands of Babylon.  The illustration shows Egypt being confronted by Jeremiah. That is represented by Pharaoh (Egypt) facing Moshe (Jeremiah). The background suggests the wall paintings found on ancient Egyptian frescoes and scroll paintings. The images Jeremiah uses in his warnings about Egypt are painted here- the heifer, gadflies, serpent, locusts, and trees that will be cut down. It is intriguing that the images the prophet uses echo the plagues visited upon the Egyptians.

Pharaoh’s decree not to see Moshe’s face again not only had negative implications, it had terrible results.

We are starting a new year in the Gregorian calendar. And we are entering the month of Shevat- the New Year for trees in the Jewish calendar. Many of us have a tradition of thinking about the coming year and making wishes or resolutions. We often make unnecessary or light-hearted wishes and resolutions. This year may we reflect more seriously on our realities. May we weigh what is important and what is not. Let’s not wish for good things- let’s work towards realizing them. May we achieve a year of health and  peace and integrity. And the world will become a better place through cooperation and respect.

Did you know that you can enlarge the painting at the top of this entry by clicking on it? That way you will see all the detail.                                                                                                                               We would love to read your comments and thoughts – so let us know what you think of this week’s entry. And feel free to share this blog with your friends.


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Rosh HaShana

Rosh Hashana 2



                                                2ND DAY ROSH HASHANA

Book of Yermiayhu, Chapter 31

This week is a triple header- we have the two days of Rosh HaShana followed by Shabbbat Shuva.

 Each holiday we observe has its own special Torah and haftarah readings with a message that pertains to that holiday. This week I am going to discuss the second day of Rosh HaShana and leave you curious about the rest.

Today’s readings from the Torah and from the haftarah teach us tenets of faith, responsibility and repentance- and show us God’s steadfastness throughout difficult times.

Throughout the Torah we are told that if we obey the mitzvoth and follow God’s laws we will have land, crops, and many descendants. If we do not follow the laws our land will not prosper, the rains will not fall in the right seasons, and we will lose our sovereignty. In today’s reading we jump ahead to the time of Yermiyahu where the Jews experienced the aforementioned losses.

Today’s haftarah is from the Book of Yermiyahu.  Yermiyahu lived in Jerusalem about 2600 years ago, around the end of the 7th C. BCE. The Northern part of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians about 100 years earlier and the south was being threatened by the Babylonians. Yermiyahu is telling b’nei Yisrael that God will never abandon them. He tells the people that Rachel is weeping for them in Ramah- trying to intercede for them.

Yermiyahu describes God’s steadfastness. Rachel may weep and the nation may face enemies, but HaShem tells Rachel that she should stop weeping because her work – meaning the raising of her children- will be rewarded and will not be forgotten.

Rosh HaShana is the Day of Judgment. As such it is the most important time for reflection and repentance. The last three verses of the haftarah are the verses that determined this section of Yermiyahu as the reading for the second day of Rosh HaShana.

It says, “I can hear Ephraim (northern Israel) lamenting. “You have chastised me and I am chastised…now that I have turned back I am filled with remorse. I was ashamed and even humiliated because I bear the disgrace of my youth…”

The language is harsh.  We often forget the mitzvoth, the moral ways to do things, the guidelines that we as Jews- as the Or l’Goyim- are expected to uphold. These are the days which are for thinking and considering and soul searching.

Over the centuries with constant repeated attacks from the nations surrounding us we have survived. It is a miracle that we haven’t been wiped out but it is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with us. In verse 8 of the 20 verses here it says God will gather the remnants of Israel from the ends of the earth. And with them the blind and the lame, the woman with the child and the woman in labour. This phrase encapsulates the essence of the haftarah. It is the declaration of God’s promise- that He will remember His people, gather them in no matter where they are, and value each individual whether they be healthy, lame, blind, weak, slow, or ill.

It is easy to forget the destitute, the weak, and the disabled. And as we all know many cultures disregard the rights of women and children. As a group we Jews don’t do that. And God specifically commanded us to be cognizant of the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the poor…

The image I chose for this haftarah is based on a famous photograph from the Government Press Office in Jerusalem. It shows illegal immigrants landing in pre-war Palestine in 1939. Looking at this hodge podge of men one can imagine that they are coming from the ends of the earth coming back to Eretz Yisrael just as HaShem said they would be brought back.

The message of this haftarah is one of hope; of the surety that we are not forgotten and that God will make sure that we will survive. It is also a message that we have to see ourselves and our weaknesses. We should use these Days of Awe for reflection and prayer. We can use this time to strengthen our bonds with our spiritual selves, our community and with our God.

As it says in Yermiyahu v 11- their soul shall be like a watered garden and they shall not languish in sorrow any more.


Have a wonderful and sweet New Year full of joy, health and peace.


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Tisha B’Av

Tisha BAv sig

Tisha B’Av begins tonight, the 15th of July, 2013 which corresponds to the ninth of Av. It is the anniversary of the destruction of both the First Temple (586 BCE) and the Second Temple (70 CE) in Jerusalem. Although they occurred about 655 years apart they occurred on the same day in the Hebrew calendar. Other Jewish tragedies are also remembered on Tisha b’Av-  the day has been called the “saddest day in Jewish history”. We read the Book of Eicha which was written by the prophet Jeremiah, and other calamities are commemorated by reading kinnot (poetry of sorrow).


Tisha B’Av is treated as a day of mourning. We fast from sunset to sunset- unlike most other Jewish fasts which last from sunrise to sunset. We don’t wear leather, listen to music, swim, and we sit on the ground.One tradition is before the fast begins to eat a hard boiled egg dipped in ashes.The Book of Eicha is read by candle light sitting on the floor.
During the prayers a section from the Book of Prophets is read:

Tisha B’Av Shacharit

Jeremiah 8:13 – 9:23

This is a series of some of Jeremiah’s gloomiest prophecies. Doom, invasion, siege, famine, starvation, devastation, death, lament, cruelty are the theme of this haftarah. The dirge is unrelieved by words of comfort. These words reflect the emotion of Tisha b’Av The image chosen for Tisha b’Av is based on a woodcut by the Shoah artist Miklos Adler. Miklos Adler was a Hungarian Concentration camp survivor who depicted the autrocities of the Shoah. He was born in 1909 and died in 1965 in Israel.He painted,drew and did woodcuts.His woodcuts can be seen in a powerful haggadah called “The Survivor’s Haggadah”

The picture I drew is based on one of his haggadah woodcuts. It shows Jews waiting at a train station, looking at smoke in the form of faces rising out of crematoria chimney stacks.

If you have comments or reflections on Tisha B’Av or the imagery please post your ideas.I would love to hear from you.

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after the 17th of Tammuz

Usually for Parshat Pinchas we read the haftarah from Kings I  ch 16: 46 –19: 21. It is about Eliahu (Elijah) and his confrontation with Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. They were wicked rulers, who endeavored to kill all the Jewish prophets in their kingdom of Israel.    G-d speaks to Eliahu and instructs him to confront Jezebel and Ahab.  It’s a very exciting haftarah, but not the one we will be reading this week.


The Prophet Jeremiah by Michaelangelo

This Shabbat is one of the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’Av. This period is called “The Three (Weeks) of Admonition (Tlat DePuranuta)”. We read the first of three haftarot dealing with G‑d’s disappointment with Israel’s lack of faith and the punishments they will receive if they don’t behave righteously.
This haftarah reading is from the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah and is usually read on Shabbat Mattot. The first sentences tell us that Jeremiah prophesied from the time of King Josiah in Judah until the time of Jerusalem’s exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

We are introduced to the prophet , being told that G-d spoke to him even before Jeremiah was born, and that at that early point Jeremiah felt inadequate to speak for HaShem. In this narrative G-d shows Jeremiah first a budding almond branch, and then a steaming pot “tipped away from the north.” The budding almond branch is a symbol of G-d’s swiftness in attending to His people- just as the almond is the first tree to flower, HaShem is first to attend to us. The steaming pot tipped from the north represents the disaster that will befall B’nei Yisrael coming from the north.

The last few lines are comforting, stating that we will be attacked but not overcome.   G-d will always be present to save us.

The painting of Jeremiah is inspired by the style of the 13th C North French Miscellany.

The steaming pot and the budding branch are to the left and right of Jeremiah.

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