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Rabbi's Blog

The Rabbi's thoughts culled from the "word from the Rabbi" in his weekly email

Fan Your Flame – Instructions Enclosed

Many people live good lives but barely scratch the surface of the infinitude of their soul. Another person may struggle with purpose and then, in a moment of self-discovery, fan their divine spark into a roaring flame.

In this weeks Parsha, when G-d tells Moshe to take a census. G-d’s love of His people is strong and He counts what is precious to Him. The Hebrew expression for taking a census is “raising their heads.”

When a census is taken, each person, no matter what they are like, counts as one. There is no differentiation to analyze what type of person they are. Each one counts individually as a human being.

How do we view the essence of humanity? If man is considered a zero, you are nothing until you make something out of yourself. We are united by the fact that we all are worthless, G-d forbid. G-d, however, has a different perspective. As G-d sees it, the human’s soul is a spark of G-d’s own fire. Each spark has the potential to reflect the infinite goodness and perfection of its source.

 Human life is the endeavor to realize what is hidden in this spark.

When G-d tells Moshe to “raise the heads” of the people, it is to awaken our highest common denominator, our inherent value, our essential souls. We transcend our differences to reveal this simple fact of being, which expresses what is best in us. From this deep place our good is activated.

 G-d knows us essentially and intimately. He knows each and every one of us through and through. So why is there a census? G-d counts us to awaken our deep inner souls, to give expression to its essence. This, being seen and counted, makes our core more accessible to us in our daily lives in this world.

 The idiom “raise the heads” is an understanding of the purpose of the census. When G-d counts us, He is stimulating the highest part of our being, the spark of divinity which is at the depth of our soul. Each one of us is equally precious and needed in the world.

See what you can do to fan your spark into a roaring flame.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Beyond the High

Life is a constant circular experience. 

Our marriages wax and wane. Our relationship with G-d does the same.
Our friendships are sometimes on the brink. Other times, distance shrinks.

In Chassidic thought, this experience is called Ratzui and Shuv. It is the passion vs reality dichotomy. I want to change the world, but I only have 24 hours. I want to be home with my family, but I need a job to pay the bills. I want to grow my business, but we were forced to close for COVID, etc. Ratzui - the going up, Shuv - coming back to reality.

Every mitzvah, every interaction with Judaism, is the high, the passion to connect with Hashem. Many times, it makes us feel good. We end a prayer service or a mitzvah on a high. We feel amazing and then, Shuv, our self-existence and self-awareness, brings us back to reality. We tell ourselves that we are not perfect, and we need to continue to work on our relationship with Hashem. We may think that perhaps the motivation for the mitzvah was selfish. We repeatedly go through this cycle. We are normal! 

This week we read in the Torah about the red heifer that represents the purification process of the one who has been in contact with death. How do they get purified? They do the Red Heifer Experience, the ash and water mix.

The Jew who says to themselves: Judaism has nothing to offer me. A relationship with G-d? Meh! 
The observant Jew that perhaps does mitzvahs regularly, but beyond "doing it", the relationship with G-d is ... Eh! 

How do they get out of their rut? 

They need to experience complete surrender! I do not exist. I leave behind my own experiences, excuses, and history. All I want is to be one with G-d (Ash, I don’t exist) while remaining in this world (water, life).

This is often triggered when one realizes how distant they are.

For most of us, the high and low cycle is fine. However, this week's portion tells us, that it is also good to know that there is a beyond self-experience.

Perhaps we will get there, perhaps we will not. In the meantime, let us all have an amazing July 4th Shabbos :).

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Don't miss the gold!

Have you ever seen someone about to do something that you knew would not end well for them?
Did you tell them not to do it?
Did they respond with some variation of "YOU think it's not good for me, but I know it is good"?

We call this "alive in the grave". When we are not really alive, yet we think we are alive. When we do something stupid and think we are being smart.

The verse tells us in this week's Torah portion: "They went down to the grave alive". Can you imagine? They were in the grave and they thought they were still alive.

Sometimes we do not recognize the folly of our actions and mistake garbage for gold.

Today was the Rebbe's 26th yahrtzeit. The Rebbe encouraged us to get a mentor. To have someone, outside of us, who can mentor us and guide us. Someone who can advise us to slow down and think through that thing/action/move we think is amazing. Someone who can warn us that what we perceive as gold is in reality really garbage. The mentor helps us catch ourselves, so we don't stay in the "grave".

At the same time, the Rebbe encouraged us to see that there is "gold" everywhere. Each person you meet is a part of G-d. Each interaction you have (even negative ones) are part of G-d’s master plan. Each challenge is an exercise in growth.

So when I am hanging out in the spiritual "grave", my mentor is there to guide me on how to become "alive again". When I see something that is life, my mentor is there to ensure that I don't mistake it for a grave.

Do you have a mentor to guide you? If not, perhaps it is an opportune time to find one.

Qualifications to be a mentor. 

1) Can't be yourself
2) Needs to have your best interests in mind
3) Can't have ulterior motives
4) Needs to encourage you to grow spiritually 

Need Oxygen

Last week we discussed created a flame, a passion and a fire.

For a fire to survive, it needs oxygen. How do we provide fire with oxygen? We remove the cover, opening the container that the fire is contained in. We need to move our egos out of the way, so our internal flame can be a roaring fire of passion and connection with G-d.

We need to create a crack in our personal armor to allow otherness and G-dliness in.

To quote the love story from Song of Songs: “My beloved resembles a gazelle or a fawn of the hinds; behold, he is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering through the crack

G-d, our beloved, wants to see our fire. G-d wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us. But we need to let him peer in, by creating a crack. 

“Where is G-d? G-d is only where you let Him in.” - The Kotzker Rebbe

Have a great Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 


Where is your fire? Your passion? Your flame?

Where is your fire?
Your passion?
Your flame?

We all understand the need to make changes in our lives. To change, we need a why, a reason.

Now take a moment to think of a time that you knew intellectually you should change something, but you didn't do anything about it. Why not?

You wanted to get more involved in your Jewish heritage, yet actually making changes didn't happen. Why not?

Perhaps the reason why no change was made was because the desire was an intellectual one. The ‘why change?’ didn't permeate your heart. It didn’t cause you to jump with joy at the thought of connection or anger at the lack thereof. Or perhaps some other reason. Ultimately, the desire remained in your head.

When we look at the protests going on, they are an expression of a cerebral understanding - that existed for too long -, that there is inequality and racism amongst us. The protests were started because this understanding moved from our heads to our hearts making us boil with anger at injustice.

It's very different when you "know" something bad happens then when you feel it in your bones.

So, if you want to change yourself, or change society, you need to ask yourself, am I feeling it? Or do I think I want to change, but there is no fire in me yet to make it happen.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. Local women, if you don’t light shabbat candles (and want to change that) or if you do and want to  join our Shabbat candles "Candle lighting time text list" reply to this email (or text me) your cell phone numbers. (times are only for Bel Air, MD) Great Poem When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But, I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town.  However, I discovered I couldn’t change the town and as I grew older, I tried to change my family.  Now, as an older man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if I change myself, I could make an impact on my family.   My family and I could make an impact on our town.  Our  impact could change the country and I could indeed change the world. - Reb Yisroel Salanter

Exercise Equipment

I can’t do exercise as I don’t have the exercise equipment!

Many times, when we go on our spiritual path, we want to change yet feel we don’t have all the prerequisites required. So, change goes on the back burner.

We read in this week’s Torah portion that the Jews were in the wilderness where nothing grows. To go to the promised land, you need to have humility. One needs to be like a desert where your ego can’t grow.

Despite that being the ideal, we need to try to get to the promised land even before we are perfectly humble.

I was meeting with a personal trainer and he told me: “We will use whatever you have in the house, no need to get new equipment. However, you will still need to do the work required to help your health”.

Similarly, we need to use our strengths, even before we are perfect, and connect to Hashem with those strengths.

The story is told about Rabbi Laibel Kaplan OBM. As a young yeshiva student, he went into the Lubavitcher Rebbe for a private audience and asked: “how should I deal with my ego?” (He probably expected a full pathway in divine service.) The Rebbe simply answered: “zolst hoben mit vos”. Be the type of person who has what to be proud about. Use your pride as a motivator.

Use what you have and enhance your spirituality.

Do you need to be humble?

Should you wait till your humble to grow spiritually?

Pascals Law and Be the Best You!

Last week we spoke about the Red, Yellow and Green Jew. 

Some of the responses I got were: I am a goyish grey (from a Non-Jew), if that is how you define the colors, I will never be a Green Jew etc. 

The truth is that we all can be in the green category if we define green properly. 

The Tanna Devei Eliyahu says "A person must ask: When will my deeds reach the level of the deeds of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? "  

Can any of us have our deeds reach the spiritual stature of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Let’s be practical, ___(fill this line with all the reasons you think you can't be like our forefathers)____.

To this we turn to science. Pascal's law, as I understand it (engineers please correct me), is that the pressure applied to any part of an enclosed liquid will be transmitted equally in all directions through the liquid. If the container is full, you notice this more. It is irrelevant how much water is in the container. The pressure is transmitted throughout the fluid equally. This law is the source of how hydraulic lifts work.

The Torah is compared to liquid. What were the deeds of Abraham Isaac and Jacob? That they did their absolute best, they filled up their potential.  What we learn is when will I do the best to be the best me, the most connected to Hashem me, the most mitzvah observant me that I can be?

We need to know that the pressure we apply to ourselves causes an equal effect throughout the whole world. My Mitzvah changes the world. 

You may say, Rabbi Kushi, this sounds great BUT I am not religious! I am not Moses!

"I'm afraid!" replies Zusha. "Because when I get to heaven, I know G-d's not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' I am afraid that G-d will ask 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!"

Don't judge yourself as to why you aren't Moses or Queen Esther, but if you are the best you!

Red Yellow Green

These days we sit and wait week after week thinking, when are we going to move from red to yellow and eventually from yellow to green? We know that these transitions are not dependent on us, but on factors that are out of our control. Yet, we hope that the situation will improve so that our lives can return to some normalcy.

This got me thinking—If I had to grade myself, what color would I give myself? Not in regards to corona, but in regards to Judaism. Am I a red, yellow, or green Jew?  

The Red Jew: You stop in your tracks. You are a Jew because you are a member of the tribe. You are the “chosen nation.” You might not be too sure what that really means but you know that if someone refers to a Jew, you know that they are referring to you. 

The Yellow Jew: You stop and take pause. You think about it once in a while. You might light the Shabbat candles, make Kiddush Friday night, or lay the Tefillin. You have a charity box in your home and pay synagogue dues. You have a mezuzah on your front door. You proudly identify yourself as a Jew wherever you go! 

The Green Jew: You are a Jew-on-the-go. You are always looking for a mitzvah to do. On an ongoing, daily basis you are thinking, planning, talking, and acting like a Jew. Perhaps you are even an activist on behalf of the Jewish people or some other Jewish cause. One thing is for sure, when it comes to Judaism, you are always on the go! 

Not Jewish? You can apply this to your spiritual Journey are you in the Red, Yellow or Green zone in your relationship with the creator of the world? 

As we prepare for the Shavuot holiday, let’s all be in the Green Zone, even if only spiritually. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

no bad comes from above!

This is the first time in modern history (and perhaps ever) that in most synagogues the entire book of Vayikra (Leviticus) was not read from the Torah.  We went into quarantine as the book was beginning and this week, we conclude the third book of the Torah!  That itself is worthy of reflection.

In the final Torah portion, we read the Divine rebuke, that which will befall us if we do not follow Hashem’s instructions.  It is hard to read and even harder to swallow.
Our Sages say, “no bad comes from Above”.  What we experience that seems to be harsh is our inability to see the real good that is in it.  Like a child who is rebuked or punished by a loving parent to put them on the straight and narrow.  Or a parent who takes a child who does not yet understand, to the doctor for their vaccinations.

The child feels the pain and hurt but deep down feels that the parent is doing what is best and it is ultimately coming from a place of love.

This is a “hard Torah portion” because it is truly difficult to find the good in our challenging circumstances.   If we lean into Hashem’s embrace, we are more empowered to find the good in our circumstances and when we do, we know what we need to do to move forward.

Perhaps that is why this Parsha is read at the end of a  Book and we proclaim Chazak Chazak Vinischazek – be strong, be strong and be strengthened!
Because, we need Hashem’s help to navigate the circumstances and to find the strength to make the most of it.

So I say to you Chazak Chazak Vinischazek – be strong, be strong and be strengthened!

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

P.S. I feel for those that are struggling, the above is meant to empower you with another set of glasses to look at your circumstances.

I feel fortunate and I believe that my outlook compels me to recognize Hashem first and then ask myself what am I to do with this good fortune.

Do you feel fortunate?


Oops - Broken Link

Earlier this week was a day of global giving called "Giving Tuesday Now".

As I continue to try to make it easier for people to support our organization and make a strong impact on the local Jewish community, I arranged for the donate link to prepopulated with the donor information. It looked great! People wanted to make an impact! They put in the amount they wanted to donate, entered their credit card information and when they clicked submit… 

Yup, the air left the balloon. 
Instead of the great feeling of “Wow I made a difference” like this,
 unnamed (7).jpg

it said page not found. People felt like this:unnamed (8).jpg

The Baal Shem Tov has a teaching that one should learn something from everything he sees and hears.

The problem with the link was that it was missing the / at the end. To paraphrase Rabbi Aron Moss - Would anyone be so nitpicky as to differentiate between "yahoocom" and "yahoo.com"? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that you didn't get my email just because of a little dot?

The missing / seemed to be ridiculous.

But it’s not! Because the / is not just a /. It represents something. That dot has meaning far beyond the pixels on the screen that form it. To me it may seem insignificant, but that is simply due to my ignorance of the ways of the internet. All I know is that with the /, the donation arrives and people feel good and without it, the message is lost to oblivion, the page is not found.

In this week’s Torah portion we talk about the holidays and about Shabbos.

Does it make a difference if I light shabbat candles at 7:49 PM (this week) in Bel Air or at 8:30?

Who cares if I do the seder on the correct night, it’s generally the correct season.

Jewish practices have infinite depth. Each nuance and detail contains a world of symbolism. And every / counts. When they are performed with precision, a spiritual vibration is emailed throughout the universe, all the way to G‑d's inbox and change happens.

If you want to understand the symbolism of the /, study I.T.

If you want to understand the symbolism of Judaism, study it.

Thank you to those who made a contribution and figured out how to get around I.T. to get it done.  To join them visit www.HarfordChabad.org/donate.

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Write your story!

From the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish people count the Omer. In Hebrew Sefirat Ha'Omer - counting of the Omer (notice the root word here - Sefirah). This is a personal journey from Passover to Shavuot, a journey of counting and rewriting our story. 

In Hebrew, the word to count is Lisph(f)or.   Notice the root of the word sphor or sapphire. In Hebrew, the two words (to count and sapphire) share almost all the same letters.   They are also related to the word shining just as a sapphire shines.

It is very evident that if you make each day count and meaningful then your days will shine. How does one do this?

For that we have yet another word in Hebrew with the same root - Sipur. This word means a story or to tell a story.

During this pandemic, it is even more important to picture yourself at the end of the day and take a few moments to recount your story - the events of the day; the things you wish you had done and the things you wish you didn't [you are not alone, most people didn't get alot of "work" done].

Now picture yourself telling tomorrow’s story, how do you want it to be? What are the things you want to be proud of in tomorrow's accomplishments? What are the things you hope to avoid tomorrow? What are the personal struggles you hope to be victorious over tomorrow?

Each evening, take a moment and write your story for tomorrow, before it happens.

See what a difference it will make in your life.

Read more about the Omer by clicking here.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman

Gd Heal Us!

We need a miracle!
Did you get tested?
Were you COVID-19 Positive?
Do you have the anti-bodies?
Are you staying sane in the house?

Interestingly, this Shabbos begins a new Jewish month, the month of Iyar. The Hebrew letters that spell the month of Iyar are an acronym for the phrase “Ani Hashem Rofecha”—“I am G‑d, your healer” (Exodus 15:26).

The names of the Hebrew months are not from the bible. The Torah refers to the months as the first month, the second month, etc. However, the names they are known by today, were used privately and started to be in common usage between the first and second temples.

While we continue to stand strong through this pandemic, we need to pray that G-d assist the doctors in healing us.  When we are left with side effects from an illness, this is not a complete healing from G-d. When G-d heals, it is as if the disease never came to the person. As the beginning of the verse in exodus states “If you hearken to the voice of the Lord, your God, and you do what is proper in His eyes…, all the sicknesses … I will not visit upon you.” Once you are healed it will be as if the sickness never came to you.

As we pray for healing in this new month of healing, we should remember that it is blessed by the previous month, the month of Nissan. Nissan is also known as the month of miracles as it is in this month that Hashem miraculously took the Jewish people out of Egypt. We need to remember that while we are healed by good doctors who are guided by science, simultaneously those doctors are creating miracles because they are being assisted by G-d, the true healer.

We all need to recognize that the same “I” who took us out of Egypt; “I and not an angel, I and not a seraf, I and not a messenger, I am the One and no one else” (Haggadah) is the same “I” that will heal us “I am G‑d, your healer” (Exodus 15:26).  When G-d heals there are no negative side effects.

Have a good Shabbos,

Rabbi Kushi Schuseterman

Put on your mask first

Are you going a little meshugah? a little cabin crazy?

I was. Being there for people during this crazy time helps.

Plus, when we used to fly on a plane they would say "In the event of an emergency, please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others." 

You need to be sane and healthy in order to 

  • Serve Gd 
  • Serve your family
  • Serve your friends 
  • Serve your community

One thing I can advise is start with self-care!

Self-care comes in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few suggestions.

Physical Self Care

  • Go for a walk down the block - while maintaining social distancing
  • Do some exercise in the house
  • Drink water
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat healthier
  • Take care of your health!

Spiritual Self Care


  • If your health allows - volunteer 
  • If your finances allow give charity - can be putting a few coins in a jar, or making a donation online 
  • If you have a phone - call (don't text) someone and check in on them 
  • Be positive - in your interactions on social media - think positive and exude kindness - more on that by my brother here

 Have an amazing Shabbos and a happy and healthy Passover!

Rabbi Kushi Schusterman 

Dear Diary - 2022

March 26, 2022

Dear Diary,

Kushi here again. I know I haven’t written in a bit, things have been busy but that is no excuse. Since the Corona virus ended nearly 2 years ago, I along with my fellow earth mates made a pact to hold on to the positive changes that resulted from those very difficult and painful times.

The world has been better, healthier, kinder and cleaner and people have been happier and nicer.

In fact, just today there were many examples of life AC - After Corona. Here are just a few.

I was driving on the Beltway, and remember the old days where people would cut on another off trying to get to work in a hurry? Remember how you had to speed up and slow down in order to squeeze your car into that space barely large enough for a match box car?

While no one does that any more since traffic is significantly lighter now that so many people work from home, and bosses are much more relaxed, focusing on simply making enough money to feed families and not the greed of BC (Before Corona), and in general bosses are much more understanding, still, today someone tried to cut off the whole line.

Initially, my blood pressure started shooting upwards and foul words entered my mind about what I’d like to say to that person, but then I remembered our pact. To love, and judge favorably and to give people the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, just a few minutes later, I caught up to that car as it was exiting Northern Parkway to go to Sinai Hospital. If I saw correctly, it appeared there was a passenger in the car that was ready to give birth to a new child.

Earlier in the same day, I woke up to see my 6 Year old boy and 2 year old girl, playing a board game calmly, letting the older people sleep. and not asking for devices. I guess it is true what the experts said, those couple months of quarantine really taught us how bad and dangerous all that screen time is. It is almost as if the children associate iPads and computers with anxiety (their own or their parents’) and school and they’d rather not have the reminder by using these devices first thing upon awakening. Or any time of day if they don’t have to.

Anyway, I got to my coffee meeting in Baltimore, and it was just wonderful, since less people travel into work, there was easy parking and the states new rules about a 15 minutes grace period on the parking meters, saved from a parking ticket, so that was good too.

After a successful meeting, I got back home, and instead of going back to work, I stopped at home, to have lunch with my wife, since AC we just know how precious time with our loved ones is and there really isn’t anything I “have” to do that is more important than those few minutes of quiet time, talking and connecting. Another positive result of the healthier new world. I speak to my friends and this scene is playing itself out in homes across the world. People stopping to smell the roses. Slowing down to allow the important things in life in, and savoring them as we never did in the past.

Back in the office, I prepared both my class and my sermon, as it is already Thursday and my class has increased in attendance, both the physical attendees and digital attendees so I want to be extra prepared. It appears that since Corona, people have realized that a good evening night out is better spent in a Torah class stimulating the mind and learning how better to connect with Hashem is actually better for them and more enjoyable than a movie and a steak. (It may also be connected to the fact that we now offer wine and cocktails in addition to the usual coffee, tea and cake that were available BC. )

Shabbat Shul attendance has also increased dramatically. It’s incredible, people really had their “come to Gd moment.” Not that they were frightened into a relationship, rather a couple of months of really having the mask of “certainty” removed and being forced to accept in a real and deep way that we don’t run the world or even our lives, it is Hashem that runs everything, that who gets sick and who gets healed is out of our control really propels us towards the Almighty being. Attendance is up Friday night and Shabbat day, even the Saturday pre-services Torah discussion has a large crowd in attendance. I must prepare properly so I can teach properly.

I think the biggest after the Corona change, however, is in myself. Less hurried and harried-ness. Less fretting over the small things. Less worrying over the things that I cannot change. More focus on my family. More focus on my children. More patience with them and all people. More keeping my eye on the real prize. The prize of happiness, tranquility, family, meaning and true GDly existence.

I don’t like the CoronaVirus. I don’t like the tragedy, chaos and tears it brought to this world, I do, however, like what it has done to us, as a society, as a people, and I like what it has done to me. I am a better person, a better father for all that we’ve been through. I really hope that part of the memory stays the same.

Ok, dear diary, it's been a while, and hopefully not as much time till the next time I write, but I just wanted to share that two years ago when all the intense change was happening, no one could have imagined that we would be experiencing good times again, in fact better times. Sometimes you need to spring to the future a bit, so you can have perspective on the past.

I think to myself, what a wonderful world...

Written by Nechemia Schusterman - Modified by Rabbi Kushi

You impact the entire world

In essentially a moment in time, a matter of days perhaps hours, our world view shifted. Our sense of security disappeared.

The lessons are many and will be learned and internalized across industries, governments, communities and families.

There will be time for that in good health, please G-d!

One of the most obvious lessons that remains relevant is the relationship we have to each other.

No longer can someone think that what goes on in their life has no impact or relevance on not just their immediate surrounding but all of humanity.

No longer can we think that we are not a taker and contributor from the individual across the globe.

No longer can we believe that our actions are not potentially a matter of life and death to someone who lives thousands of miles away.

No longer can we live in a bubble to think that humanity as a whole has an impact on us; that what happens in other parts of the world are irrelevant to us.

This week we read (at least at home) two Torah Portions - Vayakhel and Pekudai. What's interesting is that these two Torah portions have conflicting meanings.

Vayakhel means to gather. Pekduai means to count. Whereas gathering is bringing together the individuals, counting means to separate them out.

Indeed this carries the message of our times; we are a collective (gathered) humanity of individuals (counting). Our individual actions impact the whole and the whole impacts the individual.

We as individuals have the ability to change the world for the good with a simple action. One Mitzvah, one action, one gesture can be trans-formative.

And the well being of the world has an impact on us. The going-ons across the globe have a trans-formative effect on our little bubble.

As we conclude week one let us pray together for healing for all those that need it, for safety and good health to all. Let us think of small deeds we can do in the confines and security of our own homes to impact the world - literally!

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Schusterman 

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