Judaism – The Unnatural Faith

 

From the artificial seven-day week, to its refusal to recognize any deity within the forces of nature, the Torah pioneered the idea that G-d is not found within nature. G-d is not in the ocean or the sun, or any physical force. When Adam was created, he was not described as being an animal (though physiologically we are, indeed, animals) — but was instead described as being made of dust, and also ensouled by the divine breath. G-d in this world is only found inside each person.

As Rabbi Sacks points out in a brilliant piece, the descendants of Avraham who were rejected from the covenant that became Judaism were similarly described as being like animals, great men of nature. In any other culture, being a passionate man who was a great archer would make one a hero – think of Davy Crockett and many other classic and folk heroes. But not in Judaism. The archer, Ishmael, was likened to a wild donkey, while the great hunter in the forest, Esau, was described as having “game in his mouth,” evocative of a cat with a bird in its teeth. Both were rejected, replaced by Isaac and Jacob, respectively.

The contrasts with animal behavior run deep. Animals are not thinkers: even animals that prepare for winter do so as a matter of instinct, not strategic planning. So, too, the ancestors that were excluded from the covenant were driven by their momentary passions: Ishmael was guided by his anger: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” (Gen. 16:12) And Esau was perhaps even worse. Esau’s eagerness to obtain lentil soup, a desperation that caused him to sell his birthright, shows us that Esau truly met the aspirations of 21st-century millennials: Esau lived in the moment.

Within nature, time horizons are necessarily short. In the “might makes right” violent perspective of Ishmael, or the hunter of game, intangible long-term belongings are unimportant. After all, as Esau says, “I am on the road to death, of what use to me is the birthright?” But we are all on the road to death. The question is whether or not we value the things we do in our lives, and understand that our accomplishments and relationships live on in the people and institutions and things we build in the time we have. We concur with Esau that we are all on the road to death; we differ in that we recognize that it is what we do along the way that matters.

G-d does not want a people who are in sync with nature – He had that in Ancient Egypt, a people completely in harmony with the Nile and the natural pagan deities. The god of the Torah wants people who seek to have a relationship with Him. This is why, as Sacks points out, our matriarchs were largely infertile, and they had to seek a relationship with G-d before they were able to bear children. For Jews, the things that come naturally to most people do not happen automatically for us; G-d wants us to ask, to pray, to engage with Him. And so He challenges us accordingly. The Torah is telling us that we are to aspire to a higher existence, and that means seeking out the divine, not communing with nature.

The Torah is telling us that to be a Jew, one must aim to be more than an animal, to see nature as something to improve, not something to emulate. This runs counter to the entire pagan world within which Judaism was born, and finds new relevance today, in a world that is so obsessed with neverending obeisance to Mother Earth that we have taken to giving proper names to every passing weather system.

It is “only natural” for man to seek pleasure, to live in the moment, to have as much fun as possible before he dies. None of these are Torah virtues. For Torah Jews, happiness is the byproduct of a life of good choices, a life in which we do our best with what we have. And so we take the long view; as links in the chain between the past and the future, our responsibilities go back hundreds of generations, and stretch forward into the generations to come. Anything we do to jeopardize our relationship to G-d means that we jeopardize the investment and dedication and suffering of all who came before us, and risk making our children and children’s children disconnected from G-d and His Torah. Endangering the future endangers our present, because if we act like animals, if we act in harmony with nature, then we become nothing more or less than our environment, actors within nature itself.

The Torah charges us otherwise: to be G-d’s own lieutenants, responsible for improving and completing the world.

There are 45 comments.

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  1. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    In other words:

    Charlie Allnut: What are you being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.

    Rose Sayer: Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.

    (from The African Queen.)

    Seawriter

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    iWe:

    But not in Judaism. The archer, Ishmael, was likened to a wild donkey, while the great hunter in the forest, Esau, was described as having “game in his mouth,” evocative of a cat with a bird in its teeth. Both were rejected, replaced by Isaac and Jacob, respectively.

    The soldiers chosen to stay with Gideon drank like alert men.  The soldiers dismissed were those who shoved their faces in the water and lapped it like dogs.

    • #2
  3. Curt North Inactive
    Curt North
    @CurtNorth

    I will go back and read the post but wanted to ask why God is hyphenated to G-d?  I’ve used God in posts and comments before with no problems, using the full word God is not a violation of any CoC.  I’ve seen several posts when God has turned into G-d and for the life of me I have no idea why.

    I find it a little jarring and distracting when trying to read a post.  Just saying.

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I will go back and read the post but wanted to ask why God is hyphenated to G-d? I’ve used God in posts and comments before with no problems, using the full word God is not a violation of any CoC. I’ve seen several posts when God has turned into G-d and for the life of me I have no idea why.

    I find it a little jarring and distracting when trying to read a post. Just saying.

    No doubt iWe can speak for himself, but there is an ancient Hebrew custom of not speaking the name of G-d.  Some carry it over into English.  Christians sometimes observe the custom.

    At Ricochet I’ve picked up the habit of doing it from @mjbubba, who can also speak for himself, but I think he does it mainly out of courtesy or respect to Ricochet’s Jews.  I eventually decided that that seemed like a good idea for me as well.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    At the risk of being redundant, this is a masterful essay. Thanks, iWe.

    • #5
  6. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    At the risk of being redundant, this is a masterful essay. Thanks, iWe.

    The same for me. Thank you iWe for putting this into a post.

    • #6
  7. Curt North Inactive
    Curt North
    @CurtNorth

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    No doubt iWe can speak for himself, but there is an ancient Hebrew custom of not speaking the name of G-d. Some carry it over into English. Christians sometimes observe the custom.

    Thanks for the explanation, appreciate it :)

    I’d never seen that in any way in my own church and have no plans to adopt it, but at least I know why it’s sometimes written that way.

    • #7
  8. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    The human mind is capable of dealing with abstract thoughts, and non-material ideas.  Numbers, arguments, and lines of reasoning all have no physical existence.  There is nothing in the universe that you can point to and say “There’s the number two.”   Animals respond only to physical facts, like food and water.  Since the mind is capable of grasping non-material things the mind must be non-material as well.  After death our body will decompose, the various parts of the body are taken apart.  This process of separation begins at death as the mind itself is separated from the body.  Being immaterial our mind goes its separate way.   This is where we differ from the animals, and why the mind should rule the body instead of the other way around.

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    The human mind is capable of dealing with abstract thoughts, and non-material ideas. Numbers, arguments, and lines of reasoning all have no physical existence. There is nothing in the universe that you can point to and say “There’s the number two.” Animals respond only to physical facts, like food and water. Since the mind is capable of grasping non-material things the mind must be non-material as well. After death our body will decompose, the various parts of the body are taken apart. This process of separation begins at death as the mind itself is separated from the body. Being immaterial our mind goes its separate way. This is where we differ from the animals, and why the mind should rule the body instead of the other way around.

    Woo hoo!

    And the number 2 exists.

    • #9
  10. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Posts like this are one of the many reasons I love Ricochet.  Thanks for another illuminating post, iWe.

    • #10
  11. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    The human mind is capable of dealing with abstract thoughts, and non-material ideas. Numbers, arguments, and lines of reasoning all have no physical existence. There is nothing in the universe that you can point to and say “There’s the number two.” Animals respond only to physical facts, like food and water. Since the mind is capable of grasping non-material things the mind must be non-material as well. After death our body will decompose, the various parts of the body are taken apart. This process of separation begins at death as the mind itself is separated from the body. Being immaterial our mind goes its separate way. This is where we differ from the animals, and why the mind should rule the body instead of the other way around.

    Not quite. In Catholic teaching the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul. We are not fully human when separated from the soul. After death the soul remains, but its powers are limited to the intellect and the will. Since, for a human being, all knowledge comes to us through the senses, after death the soul, by itself, is in a state that is alien to its nature. In order to know anything–even the memories of its life–the soul must be infused with knowledge by God. The human person is not fully himself until the resurrection of the body. Only then will we be fully ourselves as embodied spirits.

    Thus, for Catholics, at least, the person is not some disembodied Platonic entity freed from the prison of the flesh, but a rational animal. We are not called to transcend the body, but rather to struggle to put the powers of body and soul into proper order. We overcome the consequences of original sin by building habits through which the proper balance of the powers of the body and soul are restored.

    Think of it this way. Hugging a loved one is one of life’s greatest joys. But we cannot hug with a mere soul. We must be embodied to enjoy that joy.

    Christ invited Doubting Thomas to check the wounds in the Savior’s hands and side. That could not happen unless Christ’s body had been resurrected.

    • #11
  12. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    The human mind is capable of dealing with abstract thoughts, and non-material ideas. Numbers, arguments, and lines of reasoning all have no physical existence. There is nothing in the universe that you can point to and say “There’s the number two.” Animals respond only to physical facts, like food and water. Since the mind is capable of grasping non-material things the mind must be non-material as well. After death our body will decompose, the various parts of the body are taken apart. This process of separation begins at death as the mind itself is separated from the body. Being immaterial our mind goes its separate way. This is where we differ from the animals, and why the mind should rule the body instead of the other way around.

    Not quite. In Catholic teaching the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul. We are not fully human when separated from the soul. After death the soul remains, but its powers are limited to the intellect and the will. Since, for a human being, all knowledge comes to us through the senses, after death the soul, by itself, is in a state that is alien to its nature. In order to know anything–even the memories of its life–the soul must be infused with knowledge by God. The human person is not fully himself until the resurrection of the body. Only then will we be fully ourselves as embodied spirits.

    Thus, for Catholics, at least, the person is not some disembodied Platonic entity freed from the prison of the flesh, but a rational animal. We are not called to transcend the body, but rather to struggle to put the powers of body and soul into proper order. We overcome the consequences of original sin by building habits through which the proper balance of the powers of the body and soul are restored.

    Think of it this way. Hugging a loved one is one of life’s greatest joys. But we cannot hug with a mere soul. We must be embodied to enjoy that joy.

    Christ invited Doubting Thomas to check the wounds in the Savior’s hands and side. That could not happen unless Christ’s body had been resurrected.

    I think we Reformation folks are with you on this one.

    Hey, there’s this book on Augustine’s theology of desire that gets into this a bit.

    • #12
  13. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul.

    To me, the idea that the soul is rational is Greek to its core. Judaism certainly promotes the capabilities of the mind, but we tend to affirm the silliness of the proposition that man is a rational animal.

    The vast majority of things that people do are not grounded or founded in rational thought. And intelligent people are no more rational than stupid people – they are just better at lying to themselves about it.

    • #13
  14. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    I found this on Sophie’s Blog, a Jew who teaches Torah. I was quite impressed with her reasoning.

    http://nojesus4jews.weebly.com/sophiees-blog/what-does-it-mean-that-g-d-loves-or-hates-us

    • #14
  15. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul.

    To me, the idea that the soul is rational is Greek to its core. Judaism certainly promotes the capabilities of the mind, but we tend to affirm the silliness of the proposition that man is a rational animal.

    The vast majority of things that people do are not grounded or founded in rational thought. And intelligent people are no more rational than stupid people – they are just better at lying to themselves about it.

    Well, yes, there is a great deal of Greek thought in Catholic theology, but the Church does not claim that human beings are purely intellective creatures. It’s quite obvious that we act irrationally, probably most of the time. Feelings, passions, temptations, disordered desire, and on and on push us away from the true and the good pretty much all the time. The formal object of the mind is truth, while the formal object of the will is the transcendent good. The shorthand for the true and good is G-d, but, as scripture says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G-d.

    This is a complex issue and space prevents a detailed analysis. But, to put a finer point on it, the Church is fully aware of the Old Testament which is filled with stories of men falling apart, so to speak. The same is true of the New testament. As T.S. Elliot put it, “ours is in the trying, the rest is not our business.” It’s G-d’s business.

    • #15
  16. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul.

    To me, the idea that the soul is rational is Greek to its core. Judaism certainly promotes the capabilities of the mind, but we tend to affirm the silliness of the proposition that man is a rational animal.

    The vast majority of things that people do are not grounded or founded in rational thought. And intelligent people are no more rational than stupid people – they are just better at lying to themselves about it.

    Well, yes, there is a great deal of Greek thought in Catholic theology, but the Church does not claim that human beings are purely intellective creatures. It’s quite obvious that we act irrationally, probably most of the time. Feelings, passions, temptations, disordered desire, . . .

    An important topic.  The real Augustine wrote a lot about that, and some little weirdo wrote a book about him writing about that.

    . . . and on and on push us away from the true and the good pretty much all the time. The formal object of the mind is truth, while the formal object of the will is the transcendent good. The shorthand for the true and good is G-d, but, as scripture says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of G-d.

    This is a complex issue and space prevents a detailed analysis. But, to put a finer point on it, the Church is fully aware of the Old Testament which is filled with stories of men falling apart, so to speak. The same is true of the New testament. As T.S. Elliot put it, “ours is in the trying, the rest is not our business.” It’s G-d’s business.

    For that matter, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates knew (and told) plenty of stories of folks acting irrationally and falling apart.

    • #16
  17. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I will go back and read the post but wanted to ask why God is hyphenated to G-d? I’ve used God in posts and comments before with no problems, using the full word God is not a violation of any CoC. I’ve seen several posts when God has turned into G-d and for the life of me I have no idea why.

    I find it a little jarring and distracting when trying to read a post. Just saying.

    No doubt iWe can speak for himself, but there is an ancient Hebrew custom of not speaking the name of G-d. Some carry it over into English. Christians sometimes observe the custom.

    At Ricochet I’ve picked up the habit of doing it from @mjbubba, who can also speak for himself, but I think he does it mainly out of courtesy or respect to Ricochet’s Jews. I eventually decided that that seemed like a good idea for me as well.

    MJBubba cannot speak for himself as he is permanently banned from Ricochet.

    • #17
  18. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I will go back and read the post but wanted to ask why God is hyphenated to G-d? I’ve used God in posts and comments before with no problems, using the full word God is not a violation of any CoC. I’ve seen several posts when God has turned into G-d and for the life of me I have no idea why.

    I find it a little jarring and distracting when trying to read a post. Just saying.

    No doubt iWe can speak for himself, but there is an ancient Hebrew custom of not speaking the name of G-d. Some carry it over into English. Christians sometimes observe the custom.

    At Ricochet I’ve picked up the habit of doing it from @mjbubba, who can also speak for himself, but I think he does it mainly out of courtesy or respect to Ricochet’s Jews. I eventually decided that that seemed like a good idea for me as well.

    MJBubba cannot speak for himself as he is permanently banned from Ricochet.

    Whoa!  When did I miss this?

    What did I miss?

    • #18
  19. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    And the number 2 exists.

    Well, I ‘ve always thought so.

    • #19
  20. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    Not quite. In Catholic teaching the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul. We are not fully human when separated from the soul. After death the soul remains, but its powers are limited to the intellect and the will. Since, for a human being, all knowledge comes to us through the senses, after death the soul, by itself, is in a state that is alien to its nature. In order to know anything–even the memories of its life–the soul must be infused with knowledge by God. The human person is not fully himself until the resurrection of the body. Only then will we be fully ourselves as embodied spirits.

    True.    As far as what happens to the soul after death goes I think I did Ok.   I did not intend to be complete, as that can take awhile.  Yes, the soul continues to exist, but in a diminished state.  If the soul gets to Heaven, or Purgatory it has tremendous compensation, but the person still isn’t complete until they get their body back at the Resurrection.

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Ordinarily I don’t speak up when an OP goes off in a direction that is different than the original purpose. And I know that iWe is perfectly able to take care of himself. But I’m a bit bothered that the comments are taking a direction of discussion of Christianity. I know that sometimes happens on iWe’s posts, and I think he’s usually gracious, but if this topic moves into Christian theology, I think I may bow out. No offense.

    • #21
  22. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Michael Collins (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    Not quite. In Catholic teaching the human person is the composite of material body and rational soul. We are not fully human when separated from the soul. After death the soul remains, but its powers are limited to the intellect and the will. Since, for a human being, all knowledge comes to us through the senses, after death the soul, by itself, is in a state that is alien to its nature. In order to know anything–even the memories of its life–the soul must be infused with knowledge by God. The human person is not fully himself until the resurrection of the body. Only then will we be fully ourselves as embodied spirits.

    True. As far as what happens to the soul after death goes I think I did Ok. I did not intend to be complete, as that can take awhile. Yes, the soul continues to exist, but in a diminished state. If the soul gets to Heaven, or Purgatory it has tremendous compensation, but the person still isn’t complete until they get their body back at the Resurrection.

    I wasn’t criticizing Michael. I was just trying to add to the discussion. I apologize if I came across too strong. As a now retired old country lawyer I do have a tendency to be a bit overbearing, as my beloved is forever reminding me.(-:

    • #22
  23. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Ordinarily I don’t speak up when an OP goes off in a direction that is different than the original purpose. And I know that iWe is perfectly able to take care of himself. But I’m a bit bothered that the comments are taking a direction of discussion of Christianity. I know that sometimes happens on iWe’s posts, and I think he’s usually gracious, but if this topic moves into Christian theology, I think I may bow out. No offense.

    Well, I don’t know. I just think we Christian types are trying to engage in discussion. In my own case, I’m offering points that, I hope, will lead IWe to elaborate. I’m not an expert in Judaism, so I suggested another way to look at the nature of human persons. I hope to learn more through the responses, which I hope Iwe will provide. Or you.(-: I expect I would learn a lot.

    • #23
  24. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    Thus, for Catholics, at least, the person is not some disembodied Platonic entity freed from the prison of the flesh, but a rational animal.

    My comment was meant to stress the importance of the spiritual side of man.  If we were completely material creatures, then Esau and Ishmael would be blameless.  In fact they would both be good role models.  I was supporting the thesis of the post, and avoiding any further comment beyond that.   But that can easily lead to misunderstanding, and possibly even damage to souls less well informed.  You offered a needed corrective.

    Your comment reminds me of why I don’t like the song “I’ll fly away”.  I love the catchy tune, but the lyrics suggest an “I’ve got it made” attitude toward salvation, rather than the Biblical and Catholic idea that we need to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”.   Moreover the apparent reference to the body as “prison walls” is completely at odds with the Catholic view of the body.  But it would make a good hymn for Manicheans.  :-)

    • #24
  25. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
     

    Your comment reminds me of why I don’t like the song “I’ll fly away”. I love the catchy tune, but the lyrics suggest an “I’ve got it made” attitude toward salvation, rather than the Biblical and Catholic idea that we need to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”. Moreover the apparent reference to the body as “prison walls” is completely at odds with the Catholic view of the body. But it would make a good hymn for Manicheans. :-)

    Yeah, that song annoys me too.  Very little biblical, Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant about it.

    • #25
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):
    Well, I don’t know. I just think we Christian types are trying to engage in discussion. In my own case, I’m offering points that, I hope, will lead IWe to elaborate. I’m not an expert in Judaism, so I suggested another way to look at the nature of human persons. I hope to learn more through the responses, which I hope Iwe will provide. Or you.(-: I expect I would learn a lot.

    I’m afraid I’m no help, Mike; I’m just a beginner re Judaism, and limited in my understanding in this area. Maybe iWe will take up the discussion. Thank you for explaining

    • #26
  27. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Kay of MT (View Comment):
    I found this on Sophie’s Blog, a Jew who teaches Torah. I was quite impressed with her reasoning.

    http://nojesus4jews.weebly.com/sophiees-blog/what-does-it-mean-that-g-d-loves-or-hates-us

    I was very much NOT. Her reasoning is entirely unsupported by the Torah itself.

    I think it is clear that G-d feels. And He changes His mind. And indeed, He changes. More than this: WE change G-d as well! This is all clear in the Torah itself, and people who insist that the text does not mean what it says, are simply not respecting G-d’s own words. They are living in their own fantasy, counter to the Torah.

     

    • #27
  28. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Late to the party, but grateful, as ever, for the reminder that contact with the Ineffable is as necessary as breathing – for this ’embodied spirit’.  As well, to iWe for allowing his posts to serve as a meeting-place for theo-geeks of many kinds…Thank you, dear friend to many of us, for hospitality and patience! :-)

    • #28
  29. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    iWe (View Comment):

    Kay of MT (View Comment):
    I found this on Sophie’s Blog, a Jew who teaches Torah. I was quite impressed with her reasoning.

    http://nojesus4jews.weebly.com/sophiees-blog/what-does-it-mean-that-g-d-loves-or-hates-us

    I was very much NOT. Her reasoning is entirely unsupported by the Torah itself.

    I think it is clear that G-d feels. And He changes His mind. And indeed, He changes. More than this: WE change G-d as well! This is all clear in the Torah itself, and people who insist that the text does not mean what it says, are simply not respecting G-d’s own words. They are living in their own fantasy, counter to the Torah.

    I went back are reread the post, and it states it is written by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro on the forum “Jews with Questions” When I went to look up the forum, there was no such forum as it had been taken down. Thanks for straightening me out, but I am still confused. I simply don’t know enough.

    • #29
  30. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    I can’t love this post enough. Looking for methodological naturalism that is completely compatible with Theism? Look no further than Genesis 1. What are those things that glow in the sky at night? Lights. Not gods, not demigods, not even the spirits of the ancestors. Lights. Thanks.

    • #30

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