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  • The Baseless Hatred Mystery Revealed

    by Shmuel Katanov

     Our Chachamim z"l tell us that the First Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of three sins: Avodah Zarah/Idolatry, Shefichat Damim/Murder, and Arayot/Adultery. The second Temple of only one sin - Sinat Chinam - Baseless Hatred.

    Each of the sins are bad in their own right, but it took three sins to bring down the First Temple and only one the Second. Why? Why only one, what is so destructive and bad about it?

    Let's dive into Sinat Chinam cause I believe the reasons for the destruction of the First Temple are pretty self explanatory.

    So what is Sinat Chinam? It is Baseless Hatred or simply Hate that is coming from a place of evil. It's a wish to see another's demise or failure and when you in that hating mode you observe and translate anything that person does to negative with no benefit of a doubt.

    When you hate you always pursue the harm of another. You speak of him in harmful way, you make up stories so you get more people on your side to believe the lies, so he can have enemies. You speak and spread lashon hara - an evil speech, because you want others to see him in a bad way. You may say things to his spouse, so the family will have no peace and eventually falls apart. You make up stories about him and his children, so it should effect their shidduchim/marriage prospects. You make sure his reputation is ruined in his community and places of business. You make sure your family and people around him show him a cold shoulder so he feels unwanted and unbelonged.

    All of this is done stealthily where few people involved in the community or many across many communities. In our times, all of the above can be accomplished with just few clicks of the computer or the phone.

    Because of this ugly behavior, of the few or the many, Hashem has destroyed the Second Temple. So if the Temple is destroyed and it may seem like nothing is at stake today, what do we have to lose this time around?

    Chachamim tell us, that when a new family is born, the chatan and kallah are on their way to build something enormously holy - their Own Bet Hamikdash, where each room of their house resembles the original Temple. The bedroom is like the Holy of Holies, the living room table is like a Mizbeach where we cater the guests and consume our earthly sacrifices. Kitchen is where it's all prepared to the strict laws of kashrut.

    Our houses and shules are small Batey haMikdashim. This is where Shechina rests, this is where the mitzvot are done and kedusha is kept.

    Hashem wants peace and unity between people in the community or between communities, where people help each other, happy for each other, where they see good in each other with no jealousy and hate towards each other. Where they want others to have better houses, cars, vacations, respect and accessories. This is what Hashem expects from his people.

    Second Temple was destroyed because of Hate, the most ugliest trait that consumes many communities and people no matter their religious backgrounds. The solution to it is Achavat Chinam - Baseless Love. Otherwise our small Batey haMikdashim are at stake.

    The Sages taught, "Any generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if it had been destroyed in their times" (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a).

    Our job is to change for the better, to do good to others, more of baseless love and no hate and animosity towards others - be it in their own community or outside of it, better ourselves in our servitude to Hashem and earn the merit to see Moshiach and the Third Beit Hamikdash rebuilt in our days. Amen.


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  • The Spirit of Our People and The Crown of Torah

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

    "And Israel encamped there before the mountain." (Shemot 19:2)

    "And Israel encamped- The singular denotes that they were united as one man with one heart." (Rashi)

    "Every single Jew has in his soul the soul of every single soul in Klal Yisrael. Since all of their souls are bound together, this one has a share in that and that one has a share in this." (Tomer Devorah)

    The most celebrated trial of the century was that of Otto Adolf Eichmann. On May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced to the world that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann has been captured and would stand trial in Israel. Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler's "final solution of the Jewish question," was captured by Mossad and Shin Bet agents on the streets of Buenos Aires, where he had been living under the name of Ricardo Klement since 1952. The agents drugged Eichmann and he was flown out of Argentina disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident. Three days later, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was in Israeli custody, where then he was put on trial for genocide. The decision was made to film the trial for a worldwide TV audience.

    Eichmann's trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first trial to be televised in history. Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to die. On May 31, 1962, he was hanged near Tel Aviv.

    The identity of the executioner was kept secret for 30 years and was not revealed until the man retired. As a human-interest story, German television wanted to interview the man who actually pulled the lever and killed Eichmann. The German film crew traveled to Israel to interview the man. As it turned out he was an orthodox Jew of Yemenite descent.

    The man agreed under one condition - that they interview him at the Kolel - study hall where he was attending daily. The producer asked him why he wanted to be interviewed in a crowded room and not in a quite studio. He answered "I want the German people to see why we survived. I want the German people to see us learning Torah."

    Rabbi Matityahu Solomon asks that on Mincha of Yom Kippur there is a special Segulah of not losing, Chas V'shalom, children before the parents die. They have to shed a tear for the loss of the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, who died at an early age when they were consumed by fire at the altar. Why is this a concern on the day of judgment?

    We are embarking on the holiday of Shevuot and there are numerous points to keep in mind for our spiritual success in commemorating our Torah. Everyone is aware that the High Holiday period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a period of judgment (Din). However, not everyone is aware that the Ari z"l and the Shaloh HaKodesh write that there is judgment on Shavuot as well. The judgment of Shavuot affects each and every one of us. On Shavuot there is Heavenly Judgment that determines the degree of success each of us will have in pursuing our Torah studies during the coming year. Just as the amount of material sustenance each of us will receive for the next 12 months is determined on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, so to the amount of spiritual sustenance each of us will receive from our Torah study during the next twelve months is determined on the Day of the Giving of the Torah.

    We know how to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We know we are to pray, we know we are to do mitzvot. These things determine the nature of the Judgment we receive during the season of the Days of Awe. What are we supposed to do on Shavuot in order that the Almighty will say "If this is how he acts, then he deserves to be given a year of success in his learning endeavors?"

    We all know the story of Purim and how the wicked Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish people. It says in Tractate Megila when Haman came to pick up Mordechai for the royal parade, he found Mordechai teaching Torah to children despite of the decree of annihilation. He was curious to know what they were learning. They answered the laws of sacrifices for the future when the Bet Hamikdash would be functioning. At that point in time Haman came to a startling realization, that the children's learning of the laws of korbanos-sacrifices would overwhelm his plotting to destroy the Jews. What was it that deflated Haman? What was it that made him realize that his plan was doomed? Haman expected them that they were planning their end. He thought they, if anything, would learn the laws of death or dying for G-d (Kiddush Hashem) but to find them learning about a Bet Hamikdash that didn't even exist yet and how they were anticipating the coming of it demonstrated to him their resilience and willful stubborn spirit. It was a spirit to exist and co-exist- a spirit that is nurtured by the Torah.

    The Holy Books say that a person's judgment in this matter is dependent on his desire (cheshek) to learn. The more he wants it, the more he shows the Master of the Universe somehow that this is important to him and he wants success in his learning endeavors, the more he will receive it. It is this "cheshek to learn" that determines the extent to which the Almighty will allot him success in learning and that is how he strengthens his spirit.
    This is what we have to demonstrate over the next few days leading up to Shavuot - our desire to learn! One develops a 'cheshek' if one comes to an appreciation of what Torah is and of how important Torah is to his life. Somehow, in these next few days, we must spend time thinking of the role Torah plays in our lives, the importance that it has. In this way, we can sincerely express to the G-d our desire to grow in learning.

    WHY IS TORAH IMPORTANT?

    Study of Torah is a specific mitzvah in Deuteronomy 6:7 (which we recite daily in the Shema): "You shall teach them diligently to your children" - which directs us to transmit Torah to the next generation... "and you shall speak of them (words of Torah) while you sit at home, while you walk on the way, when you go to bed and when you get up" - which directs us to study the Torah ourselves. This need to devote ourselves to knowing the Torah, to work at it, to strive to comprehend it, to give it first priority - is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible. Our history demonstrates that the moment study of Torah is neglected, assimilation of the Jewish people into its surroundings makes its inroad. Without fail, every Jewish community in history that did not teach and study Torah as its first priority gradually disappeared from the scene. Beyond all the good, rational reasons, Torah is the mysterious bridge which connects the Jew and God, across which they interact and communicate, and by means of which God fulfills His covenant with His people to sustain them and protect them.

    It is therefore no surprise that Torah study is so central with us. It is the first blessing a newborn child receives: "May he grow up to Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to good deeds." The prayer book is filled with petitions to God to help us understand His Torah. No wonder Rebbe Akiva in the Talmud states that to expect a Jew to live without Torah is like expecting a fish to live without water. That's because the fact is that the Torah is the essence of the Jewish people, our very life and soul, and without it we literally have no existence. This explains why, in a traditional Jewish community, the one who is looked up to and most admired is the scholar of Torah - not the entertainer or the athlete.

    When we study Torah, we are not studying an abstract and arcane text of the ancient world. We are studying the way in which God wants us to live on this earth... (We) are in fact engaged in discovering the essence of Judaism, which is to say, the essence of ourselves.

    Rabbi Paysach Krohn asks a great question. Why did the Angel fight with Yaacov and not with Avraham and Yitzchak? Why did he pick on Yaacov? We know Avram represents kindness-chessed and Yitzchak represents sacrifice and prayer. Yaacov represents Torah. In essence the angel was saying they can do kindness as much as they want; they can pray all day. However, if I take away the Torah there is no future generations. Why should we shed a tear for Nadav an Avihu?

    Rabbi Matityahu Solomon quotes the Ponavitch Rav. Moshe said that Nadav and Avihu were greater than himself and Aharon. As great as they were, can one imagine how great they would have become? Can one imagine what Klal Yisrael would have looked like if for forty years they would have been taught by MOSHE, AHARON, NADAV, AND AVIHU! Can one conceptualize how they would have influenced Klal Yisrael? Furthermore, how much would our nation look like TODAY!

    Rabbi Ephraim Waxman expounds on the Tomer Devorah when it says, "Every single Jew has in his soul the soul of every single soul in Klal Yisrael. Since all of their souls are bound together, this one has a share in that and that one has a share in this." When one learns Torah, he lifts up every Jewish soul in Klal Yisrael that resides with in his Neshama. Even Jews that don't have an inkling that Torah exist benefit from your learning. The power of studying Torah not only transcends space, but it transcends time. One who learns G-d's Torah benefits generations before him and the generations before him learning Torah benefit him through the millennium. Inside our souls rest the souls of our fathers. We have the souls of Nadav and Avihu. In other words, every Jew is timeless and ageless and we all come together and are united through Torah. He explains this point from an interpretation of Kedusha that is recited by the Ashkenazim. "NEKADESH ET SHIMCHA BA'OLAM K'SHEM SHEHMAKDISHIM OTO" - "We, in this world, sanctifies your name through our learning Torah like your name is sanctified in the heavens by the Jews who perished and are by your side, our ancestors."

    In every generation there is that bad angel in one form or another who tries to deter or, at times, destroy us. Rabbi Matityahu Solomon relates an incident, when he was a boy, barely bar mitzvah, where his father one day brought home a 16-year-old refugee from Eastern Europe. It was soon after the war and many of these boys were shipped to England, broken, without families. "My father said to my mother 'Bring out to this boy a pack of cookies'. We were all taken aback, a pack of cookies back then was a big deal at the time. My father continued 'This boy was just tested by the Rosh Yeshiva-Head Master and incredibly, it became known to us that he memorized 200 daphim-pages of Gemarah while he was in the Concentration camp! The boy's father was a Rav in Eastern Europe and gave Daf Yomi classes and when he and his son were forced into the camps the father taught his son.'"

    Rabbi Solomon continues: "I thought, can one imagine the father and son in the barracks in the concentration camp huddled up in one corner afraid not to get caught and the father teaching the son. That is the desire one prays for on Shevuot. That is the spirit of our people. The son, now, will study Torah, unfortunately, without his father. But, in essence, they both will sanctify G-d's name, in this world and the Heavens, for they are part of a nation that has spirit!"

    Rabbi Avi Matmon

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  • Silence is Golden

    by gTorah.com

     The princes of each tribe are identified in the census of the nation. But the lists are not identical, when they probably ought to be:

    לְגָד אֶלְיָסָף בֶּן דְּעוּאֵל – For Gad, Elyasaf, son of De’uel. (1:14)

    וּמַטֵּה גָּד וְנָשִׂיא לִבְנֵי גָד אֶלְיָסָף בֶּן רְעוּאֵל – The prince of the children of Gad was Elyasaf, son of Re’uel. (2:14)

    His fathers name has changed. Why?

    It is important to note that the names of the Nesi’im are not listed for historicity – all are written for deep rooted reasons – what follows is just one.

    The Chida explains that the tribe of Gad merited Moshe Rabeinu being buried in their portion, as they kept silent in the face of Reuven’s instructions. Reuven and Gad were encamped next to each other, and Reuven was “Rosh HaDegel” – leader of their formation, in charge of all camp movements. Reuven was a firstborn of Leah, as was Dan of Bilhah, and both tribes were “Rosh HaDegel”, whereas Gad, a firstborn Zilpah was overlooked. The tribe of Gad did not protest to Moshe that they weren’t given this privilege, and as such merited for Moshe buried in their portion.

    This trait is characterised in the saying of R’ Shimon Ben Gamliel in Pirkei Avos לא מצאתי לגוף טוב אלא שתיקה – I’ve not found anything better for the body than silence. Self sacrifice in the interest of the greater good was prevalent in Moshe’s personality too. Moshe is occasionally referred to as ריע א-ל – friend of G-d – the name of the ancestor of the Nasi of Gad – רְעוּאֵל.

    There is a story told about the Sdei Chemed, who was already known for his diligence and sharpness as a young man. There were two young men who attempted to get into the yeshiva he studied in, but were rejected. Feeling bitter, one of them hatched a plot to get back at the institution, by disgracing its star student, the Sdei Chemed. The Beis Midrash was prepared every morning by a local village lady. Knowing that the Sdei Chemed was there by sunrise every morning, the plotter offered her money to falsely accuse the Sdei Chemed of molesting her one morning. She flatly refused, insisting that she would lose her job and income. The plotter assured he’d hire her if she lost her job, to which she agreed. Word got out that the Sdei Chemed had “molested” this woman, and the whole town was in outrage and uproar.

    Knowing the Sdei Chemed’s character, the Rosh Yeshiva was adamant and refused to believe her, and she lost her job, and would hear no more of the matter. Not days after the incident, the plotter who had paid off the woman passed away. She saw the young man had gotten his come-uppance, and he had died without getting her anew job. Tearful and contrite, she approached the Sdei Chemed on his way home and begged forgiveness, and told him the truth of what had happened, and asked that he go to the Rosh Yeshivah and try to get her old job back. The Sdei Chemed accepted her apology on the spot; “I have no problem helping you get your old job back, I’ll sort that out. But I forbid you from disgracing the memory of the deceased by mentioning his involvement!”

    Chazal say המעביר על מדותיו, מעבירים לו כל פשעיו. Overlooking personal inconvenience to preserve what’s right is a phenomenally difficult thing to achieve, but its worth it.

    TRUST MEANS SHARING THE BLESSING

    The agricultural aspects of the Chagim are often forgotten in today’s world of finance and commerce. People would plant their fields around Sukkos; cut the crops at Pesach; and leave them to dry until Shavuos, when they would gather in the yield – hence the alternative name for Shavuos, Chag Ha’Asif – the Chag of Gathering. The main feature of Shavuos was the Omer offering, where people would bring the first two bushels they harvested to Jerusalem.

    People nervously check their investments to see if they work out. It’s the same for crops, between planting and harvesting. Once cut, owners can be satisfied with the certainty of that year’s yield. Yet in Judaism, the freshly cut crops would be off limits until the Omer offering was brought. This then permitted consumption of the rest. Shmitta and Yovel govern land use so that people relinquish control and effective ownership of their land every few years, and the Omer serves a similar purpose.

    Typically, communal offerings consist of a single animal or unit, representing the united Jewish people. Why is the Omer made up of two portions?

    Rav Hirsch teaches how the laws regulating use of the Land of Israel instil a sense of gratitude and trust in a person. That little bit of doubt, that little bit of insecurity, are exactly the points at which a person can actionably show their dependence and gratitude for the blessings they have.

    When a communal offering has more than one unit, it is for the component parts of the Jewish people. There are two portions to the Omer offering to remind us that we cannot enjoy our blessings unless others are able to as well. It’s part of the trust and thanks we owe for what we have.

    We cannot say thank you for our blessings without sharing them as well.

    A LEGENDARY RELATIONSHIP

    Midrashim are cryptic, and often misunderstood. They are metaphors, literary devices that encode how Chazal understood stories in the Torah.

    There is a Midrash that teaches that before Creation, God went to all the nations that would one day be and offered them the Torah. Each time the offer was made, all the nations inquired what they would be bound to do. All the nations, except the Jews, who accepted without knowing what it entailed.

    What is this Midrash about?

    The Midrash does not say the Jews would not care what was in it. If they had been asked, perhaps the response would have been about gossip, and the Torah would be declined! The Midrash does not mean that the Jews do not care about the pitfalls. R’ Chaim Brown explains that the Midrash is about something else entirely – relationship. R’ Binyamin Finkel gives a simple analogy.

    If a broker you do not know calls, and gives a half hour window to make a large investment that he assures you would give large returns, there would be a lot of questions to ask. It is perfectly reasonable to want to know what you’re getting yourself into – the Midrash is not speaking of a deficiency in the nations for their questions. The questions are fair. “What would this agreement require from me?”

    Instead, consider that your parents, or in-laws, were the ones on the phone, offering a half hour window in which to join a venture of theirs. Undoubtedly there are risks, but with the love and trust of the relationship, there needn’t be any questions.

    This is what the Midrash is about. Whatever duties the Torah requires are worth taking on, because it is our Father offering the package.

    HARDER THAN IT LOOKS

    On Shavuos, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth. The subtext of the story is how crucial it is to pursue a personal stake in Torah and to want to be a part of the Jewish people. The story concludes with the genealogy of Ruth’s descendants, culminating in David – and therefore Moshiach too, the ultimate dream of Jewish hope.

    But the story is not a happy one. Boaz died the morning after he took her in, leaving her a pregnant widow. She never saw the happy ending; neither did Boaz or Naomi see the vindication of their actions. David’s rise was generations after they had passed.

    The story is explicit that God’s justice is not simple or immediate, but calculated over centuries and generations.

    The Chasam Sofer notes that the story of Cain and Abel is included in the Torah, right at the beginning, to teach precisely this lesson. God favoured Abel, and Cain murdered him out of jealousy. Yet Cain lived for a full life with countless descendants. Where is the justice? It is not just to say that justice was when they died in the Flood, so long afterward.

    The story shows that justice is complicated. It is curious to note that the end of the book, the genealogy of Jewish hope springs from some bizarre circumstances.

    Boaz, a member of the house of Yehuda was descended from Peretz, born of the mysterious story of Yehuda and Tamar. The Gemara says that he lost his free will when he approached the crossroads and spotted her.

    Boaz fainted at the sight of Ruth in his bed chambers. Everyone castigated him, supporting Ploni Almoni’s arguments. The day after adjudicating Ruth’s case, he died, which could certainly be labeled as divine retribution by his critics.

    Ruth was descended from Moav, born of incest between Lot and his daughters. The other child born of this was Amon, whose descendant married King Shlomo.

    The story of David and Batsheva is one of the great mysteries in our tradition. She was married, and David orchestrated her husband’s death. The Gemara declares that whoever says David sinned is mistaken; but whoever says he didn’t is as well!

    Moshiach rises through bizarre circumstances. Incest, prostitution, adultery, and promiscuity.

    The world needs a Moshiach. Judaism believes in a World to Come, but it alone is not enough. Otherwise, we could each just take care of ourselves as hermits, and leave the world to be damned, and passively watch it burn and unravel. Judaism staunchly disavows this. Judaism affirms that this world is ours, and it needs repair. We must do what we can to make it a better place – and Moshiach will finish the job. He emerges out of the ashes of a world which has started to rebuild.

    Receiving the Torah is the moment we were chosen to be charged with this responsibility.

    Perhaps we read Ruth to remind ourselves that we may fade long before we see success. But success is not why we started. We persevere and endure, fortified with the knowledge that’s what right isn’t always what’s easy.

    A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

    NO ANGELS

    Shavuos is very different to the other Chagim.

    Each Chag celebrates something, but Shavuos does not explicitly recall a particular event; the Torah simply says that when the count from Pesach is complete, there is a Chag. There tends to be a specific thematic mitzva for each Chag, yet Shavuos has no such mitzva.

    The Chagim require a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and each Jew who makes the journey must bring a sacrifice which can only be brought on the Chag. Yet Shavuos has a six-day window afterward in which people can still bring this offering. And unlike the other Chagim, the Jewish people had to prepare themsleves for three days before Sinai.

    Shavuos is clearly different, but why?

    The Chagim celebrate greatness and grandeur on God’s part. That He saved us; the He sheltered us; that He is particular in judgment; that He is benevolent in forgiveness. Shavuos is the exception, because it’s about us.

    Moshe emphasised that people can never deserve God’s love, it is always a gift:

    כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה, לה אֱלֹקיךָ: בְּךָ בָּחַר ה אֱלֹקיךָ, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, מִכֹּל הָעַמִּים, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. לֹא מֵרֻבְּכֶם מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים, חָשַׁק ה בָּכֶם–וַיִּבְחַר בָּכֶם: כִּי-אַתֶּם הַמְעַט, מִכָּל-הָעַמִּים. כִּי מֵאַהֲבַת ה אֶתְכֶם – You are a holy people to God. He has selected you to be his chosen people from all nations on the face of the earth. You have not been chosen because you are mighty; you’re not. Purely because He loves you so… (7:6-8)

    It is not possible to earn something in a framework in which everything is from God. Yet God loved them all the same. Just like winning the lottery, we celebrate our good fortune. This is עצרת – “stopping” – to take stock of the monumental moment.

    The Torah calls Shavuos שבועותיכם – “your Shavuos”. The Torah does not call any other Chag “yours” – not סוכותיכם, nor פתחיכם. Shavuos is the Chag of the Jewish people. It is for us and about us. . There is no mitzva, because the Chag is marked by just being ourselves. There is no mitzva, as it would confine the expression of love to a particular thing. The relationship cannot be adequately expressed through a ritual act. We simply celebrate and enjoy ourselves.

    However, there is a caveat. To internalise what the Chag entails, it cannot simply be an experience. It demands an integral preparation that the others don’t; the three days of preparation. The six-day window afterward is the Char carried over to an ordinary, everyday life.

    Shavuos was not the day the Torah was given. That was on Yom Kippur, when Moshe came down the second time and told them they’d been forgiven. The Midrash says that Shavuos is when Moshe ascended, and was confronted by angels, who could not abide for the Torah to be given to man, or in their parlance, “one borne of a woman”, an epithet alluding to his mundane, material existence. But God told them all that the Torah was always meant for mankind.

    The speciality of Shavuos celebrates physicality because that is precisely what elevates the human being. We are holy because we are human, and our choices and achievements can mean something.

    The Kotzker said it best.

    God has plenty of holy angels. What He is after is holy people.

    TIMELESS LESSONS

    The Torah never refers explicitly to Shavuos or Rosh Hashana by their primary themes of the Torah and the day of judgement. Why does the Torah overlook this?

    The Kli Yakar explains that the themes transcend a particular moment.

    Torah each day is a new experience, bringing fresh understanding and enhanced insights with it. The Torah is on offer every day, and we choose through our actions whether to accept or decline. Calling Shavuos “Torah Day” is a disservice to our responsibilities.

    Likewise, is described as the day to blow the Shofar, because our actions are under scrutiny every day. We are accountable always. Calling Rosh HaShana “Judgment Day” is a disservice to our accountability.

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