Torah Thoughts for Today
Thursday, January 29, 2004
#15: Moses’ Mystique: Liberator, Prophet, Law Giver & Torah Teacher
Moses’ Mystique: Liberator, Prophet, Law Giver & Torah Teacher

(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Bo (“Go”), read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 10, verse 1 – Chapter 13, verse 16. English text and commentary at
Dedicated to my parents.)

There are many phony, false and failed leaders in human history, but Moses is NOT one of them!

Moses’ birth, life, death, and influence are all spectacularly “larger than life”!

According to Judaism Moses was born in the Hebrew year 2368 (as illustrated in “From Adam To Moses” in The Living Torah, page 23) from Creation (that’s 1392 “B.C.E.”-“Before the Common Era”). Moses was put into a little boat on the Nile River by his mother to save him from the death decreed upon all male Hebrew babies. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian Prince. According to some Oral Law Teachings he ruled as a King in Ethiopia as well. He married a Midianite woman who is described as being Black- “KUSHITE”, with whom he had two sons.

He is selected by God to be the chosen “DELIVERER” of the Children of Israel. As instructed by God, he performs mind-boggling nature-defying miracles, leads the Children of Israel out of Egypt, breaking Pharaoh’s resistance, and receives the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Torah. He fights many external enemies and subdues internal revolts as he moulds the Children of Israel into a nation.

He is banned from entering the Holy Land of Israel, and dies at the age of 120, in the Hebrew year 2488 on the Hebrew calendar (1272 “B.C.E.”). He goes up Mount Nebo before his death, views the Holy Land and is INSTRUCTED to die. He is “buried” by God and the exact place of his burial is not known to this very day. He is revered by Jews forevermore as their supreme RABBI meaning TEACHER, and by the world at large as the greatest Law Giver that ever lived.

Moses, MOSHEH or MOSHE in Hebrew, is the dominant personality in our Torah portion. From the start of the book of Exodus till the end of Deuteronomy, Moses’ name appears in all the portions, minus one (because at one point he had asked God to “remove” his name from God’s “Book”.) In fact the Torah (which means “Teachings”, “Laws”, or “Instructions”) is also called in Judaism, “THE TORAH OF MOSES” – “TORAT MOSHEH”, also the “CHAMISHAH CHUMSHEI TORAH” –“Five Books of the Torah” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), in which Moses is a central figure in various ways.

Judaism considers Moses to be the GREATEST OF ALL THE PROPHETS, in fact he is called “THE FATHER OF ALL THE PROPHETS”, because as Maimonides explains, once chosen by God to be His Messenger, Moses was in a state of CONSTANT READINESS TO RECEIVE PROPHECY FROM GOD. Unlike other lesser prophets, Moses did not require any prior preparations to literally SPEAK MOUTH TO MOUTH WITH GOD. Moses and God just went ahead and communicated with each other at will. NO human since then has ever reached that spiritual level:

“God said, ‘Listen carefully to My words. If someone among you experiences divine prophecy, then when I make Myself known to him in a vision, I will speak to him in a dream. This is not true of My servant Moses, who is like a trusted servant throughout My house. With him I speak face to face {mouth to mouth} – ‘PEH EL PEH ADABER BO’, in a vision not containing allegory, so that HE SEES A TRUE PICTURE OF GOD. How can you not be afraid to speak against My servant Moses?’” (Numbers, Chapter 12, vs. 6 – 8).

And the actual LAST three verses of the Torah describe Moses’ unequaled status as God’s supreme prophet and leader: “No other prophet like Moses has arisen in Israel, who KNEW GOD FACE TO FACE – ‘PANIM EL PANIM’. No one else could reproduce the signs and miracles that God let him display in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and all his land, or any of the mighty acts or great sights that Moses displayed before the eyes of all Israel.” (Deuteronomy, Chapter 34, vs. 10 –12). [1]

(Note, the Torah ends with the word “Israel” at it’s closing, as if to say that the climax of humanity is “Israel”.)

These crucial verses and sources are quite clear that the claims of the founders of both Christianity and Islam, or any other false “messiahs” or self-proclaimed “prophets”, CANNOT be accepted at all by Judaism and the Torah ever. In fact according to Judaism, prophecy actually ENDS when the Jewish people are exiled to Babylonia over 2,500 years ago, so it’s manifestly silly to claim that one can “follow-up on” and “overtake” Moses when no such thing is possible either theologically, logically, or historically. Judaism does teach that the ultimate Jewish Messiah will be a prophet as the Jews will be restored to their land and the Temple will also be rebuilt, yet he will NOT be greater than Moses! Since Moses is the ultimate prophet, and he is God’s “SCRIBE” who writes it all down, then that makes the Torah itself in its entirety a BOOK OF PROPHECY as it is written by the Father of All the Prophets – Moses.

A fancy English name calls the laws and teachings of the Torah “Mosaic Law” for the fact that it is presented by Moses. Mosaic Law is actually one of the main pillars of both the Western World where Christianity has been part of its foundation and the Oriental World where Islam has ruled as they too draw many of their teachings from Mosaic Law. A search on Google for “Mosaic Law” at: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=Mosaic+Law&btnG=Google+Search reveals the scope of this type of usage in Christian theology. Jews almost never use the label of “Mosaic Law” to talk about the Torah, yet Christian theologians are obsessed with it whether it be to show how important, relevant, or contradictory it may be to their own “new” religion that wouldn’t have gotten past the “starting gate” had it not been for “Mosaic Law” in the first place. So much for the power of Moses’ teachings over non-Jews even at this very point in time.

The entire faith of Judaism would not exist without Moses’ role in transmitting the Torah’s teachings to the Children of Israel-The Jewish People. (And most certainly, the two huge global religions of Christianity and Islam which claim the allegiance of half of humanity’s six billion people WOULD NOT EXIST AT ALL without the foundation of Mosaic Law first. In fact those two religions really have NOTHING original to say when you compare them to what Moses taught in the first place, but that is another discussion altogether.)

Then there are those “schools of thought” among many Jews who have “REJECTED” the classical traditional time-honored view of Moses by Judaism that says he served only as God’s “mouthpiece” and “typewriter”, ONLY writing down and teaching whatever God instructed him to do, nothing more and nothing less. A seemingly simple, yet at the same time very complex concept!

Why is it that so much misunderstanding is focused on Moses in particular?
What is the “scope” of this misunderstanding?
Are there any reliable “handles” to grab onto that may shed a little light on this most powerful yet mysterious leader?
What do the original sources of Jewish scholarship teach about the nature of “MOSHEH”?

Rabbi Isaac Leeser (Germany and USA, 1806 - 1868), one of the very first authentic rabbis to live in early America, wrote “The Jews and the Mosaic Law” (1834) available online at http://www.jewish-history.com/mosaic/ , although its English usage is old, the logic, methodology, and arguments are very “modern” and “up to date”.
In the chapter called “Who Wrote the Pentateuch” (In classical Greek and Latin, “PENTA” means “five”, and “TEUCH” means “implementation” or “books of”), at http://www.jewish-history.com/mosaic/chapter2.htm [2] he presents a very cogent proof that Moses wrote the Torah entirely by first citing the Torah itself:

Firstly, very simply and clearly the Torah itself says for example: “ God said to Moses, ‘WRITE THESE WORDS DOWN FOR YOURSELF, since it is through these words that I have made a covenant with you and Israel’.” (Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 27.)

Secondly, it is Moses who records the travels of the Children of Israel in the wilderness: “These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt in organized groups under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. MOSES RECORDED THEIR STOPS ALONG THE WAY AT GOD’S COMMAND. These were their stops along the way.” (Numbers, Chapter 33, vs. 1 – 2).

Thirdly: “MOSES FINISHED WRITING THE WORDS OF THIS TORAH IN A SCROLL TO THE VERY END. Moses then gave orders to the Levites who carried the ark of God’s covenant, saying, ‘Take this Torah scroll and place it to the side of the ark of God your Lord’s covenant (i.e. next to the Ten Commandments), leaving it there as a witness (evidence against you), I am aware of your rebellious spirit and your stubbornness. Even while I am here alive with you, you are rebelling against God. What will you do after I am dead?…I know that after I die, you will become corrupt and turn away from the path that I have prescribed to you. You will eventually be beset with evil, since you will have done evil in God’s eyes, angering Him with the work of your hands’.” (Deuteronomy, Chapter 31, vs. 24 - 29). [3]

Just as in our times with the growth of skepticism and disillusionment with established religions, “Bible Criticism” that rips the authorship of the Bible to shreds, atheism, Anti-Semitic twisting and mutilations of the real truth about Judaism, the desire by Jews to abandon Judaism and assimilate and become like their gentile neighbors, and plain old down right ignorance, Rabbi Isaac Leeser (1806 – 1868) was already involved in the “arguments” to “prove” that the Torah was in fact written by Moses and presenting the beauty and validity of Judaism. He points to verses in the Torah that are very accurate and precise, attributed to Moses himself.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that: “While still in Richmond (Virginia, USA), Rabbi Leeser began his literary career with a defense of the Jews against an attack which first appeared in the London Quarterly Review and was reprinted in a New York newspaper. His works continued to involve him in polemics. In 1834, he published The Jews and Mosaic Law, a defense of the Revelation of the Pentateuch and of the Jews ‘for their adherence to same.’ The book's twenty-six chapters show wide reading in the contemporary religious literature. Rabbi Leeser was aware that just as he was reading works on religion written by Christians, so too were many other young Jews. What was needed was a polemic arguing for loyalty to the ancestral faith and adherence to its ways.” [4] The man was doing “OUTREACH” a century and a half before it’s “popularization” in our own times!

In the twentieth century, none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud (Vienna-Austria, England 1856 – 1939) the father of modern psychiatry and psychoanalysis, whose parents were originally religious Jews, had a special fascination with Moses and even wrote a book which postulates farfetched theories about Moses and his influence on Judaism. This is what Philip Rosenbloom writes about “Sigmund Freud the Jew” at http://www.jewishmag.com/71mag/freud/freud.htm :
“While in his eighties, Freud turned his psychoanalytic energies towards the Bible. He began by publishing pamphlets dealing with Moses. These were to become the core of his theory of Moses and the Jewish nation. Against the advice and wishes of many of his friends, he published his last book, ‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1937/1939). In this book Freud lays down his ideas of the Bible. First he declares that Moses was actually an Egyptian. During this period, Freud reasons, there was a battle in the Egyptian society between the polytheists and the monotheists. Moses, he reasons, was on the side of monotheism, but the polytheists had the upper hand. During that time, a Semitic tribe was enslaved in Egypt. Moses escaped from Egypt taking this tribe with him only to be killed by them in the desert.”
“This Freud presented as his idea of the Bible. Needless to say, he upset both Jews and Christians with his speculations. Many people have been bothered with the question of why did Freud, a person of such brilliance write a book that was scorned by so many, that caused him and his psychoanalysis to be associated with anti-religious thought? If Freud did not believe in the Biblical story of Moses and the origins of the Jewish nation, why did he try to come up with another story? Why not just announce that he had no belief in religion or in the Biblical accounts.”
“The answer is this: Freud, the psychoanalyst, analyzed the Biblical account of Moses and the Jews as if it were written by men who like all men, try to embellish the account of their lives. Freud dealt with people who covered the true source of their actions with a façade. In order to understand people, Freud had to uncover this external representation that man created to protect his weaknesses. Far from rejecting the validity of the Bible, Freud accepted it, but only as an external manifestation of the inner trauma of the Jewish nation. His interpretation was based on the Bible being written by man, not as we know, dictated by God.” [5]
As so frequently is the case, people who reject the “myths” of the Bible as being perhaps worse than “fairy tales”, then go on to create THEIR OWN HOME-MADE BRANDS of “fairy tales” about the Bible. Ask around and you’ll see that everyone has some sort of theory about what they “think” the Bible said or meant, or of what they know about it, and Moses is most often “target number one” for character assassination and shredding because he is so prominent and central to the entire Torah itself.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to note at this point a fascinating observation made about the Passover “HAGADAH”, the special Talmudic Text that Jews traditionally recite on Passover Eve as part of the Passover “SEDER”, the special meal at which “MATZAH” is eaten and four cups of wine are drunk in commemoration of the Exodus of the Children of Israel from ancient Egypt. The observation is this: As we know so well from the book of Exodus that Moses played a CENTRAL AND ACTIVE ROLE in the entire saga of the Exodus and his name is mentioned hundreds of times in the wording of the Torah’s text, YET IN THE PASSOVER EVE “HAGADAH” HIS NAME IS OMITTED ! Here is one interpretation:
“As we read through the Hagadah at the Seder we become aware of something quite curious. ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ (Moses our Teacher) is mentioned but once, and only in passing. This is in stark contrast to the story of the Exodus as it is presented in the Torah. From the very moment that ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ accepts his being drafted to lead the Jews out of Egypt until their departure, his involvement is total. Again and again ‘Moshe Rabbeinu's’ name is mentioned: when God speaks to him, when he meets with the leaders of the Jewish community, when he speaks to Pharaoh in private and at court and when he triggers the plagues. In fact, when Hashem (God) first spoke to ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ at the burning bush (Exodus, Chapter 3, verse 4) Hashem told ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ that his involvement was absolutely necessary. Why, then, is ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ absent from the Seder?!…”
“This is why ‘Moshe Rabbeinu’ is absent from the Hagadah. The purpose of the Exodus, the purpose of a teacher, of a true Jewish leader, is to make each and every Jew aware of ‘Hashem’ (‘The Name’ of God), not of the teacher and not of the leader. ‘Moshe was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth’ (Numbers, Chapter 12, verse 3). ‘Moshe and Aharon said [to the people]... We are nothing’ (Exodus, Chapter, 16 vs. 6 - 7).” [6]

Then again, perhaps it’s not such a question after all since Moses is considered to be the most humble man who ever lived! Consider the fact that he liberated the Children of Israel, spoke to God directly and came down with the Ten Commandments, the epicenter of “Mosaic Law”, yet he is also regarded by God as being the most humble person ever!:“MOSES, HOWEVER, WAS VERY HUMBLE, MORE SO THAN ANY MAN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH.” (Numbers, Chapter 12, verse 3). This humility is perhaps reflected in the name we know him by, which in Hebrew is spelled: “(letter) Mem”; “(letter) Shin”; “(letter) Heh” : “M”-“SH”-“H”. BUT, SPELLED BACKWARDS SPELLS: “H”-“SH”-“M” : “HASHEM” – “THE NAME” (OF GOD). Thus Moses, and “The Name” of God which encapsulates God’s essence, are ONE AND THE SAME in Hebrew at least! So Moses and “The Name” are actually TWO SIDES OF ONE COIN ! In Exodus, Moses is so prominent, yet he is nothing but God’s agent and fulfilling His mission. In the “HAGADAH”, on Passover eve, when the focus is on the Exodus occurring as God does His wonders, it is perfectly understood and KNOWN that it is Moses (who else?) – and Aaron his brother, that filled the shoes and role of HUMAN LEADERSHIP (after all we are supposed come to the “SEDER” prepared with lots of knowledge and background information from years of Torah study about what happened, to make it all so poignant and meaningful.)

Moses is named “MOSHEH” by Pharaoh’s daughter: “…She adopted him as her own son, and named him Moses (‘MOSHE’). ‘I bore (‘MASHE’) him from the water,’ she said.” (Exodus, Chapter 2, verse 10). Here is what Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says about the name Moshe on this verse: “In Egyptian, MOSHE means a son. Thus… ‘he became a son to her’. The suffix MOSHE is found in the names of the many Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, such as KA-MOSHE (‘son of [Ra’s] majesty’), ACH-MOSHE (Ahmose; ‘son of the moon’…) and TOTH-MOSHE (Thutmose; ‘son of Toth’)…The name Moses may come from the Egyptian ‘MO’ (water) and ‘USES’ (drawn from). Some sources state that Moses’ Egyptian name was MONIUS. Other ancient sources claim that Moses’ name was preserved among the Gentiles as the legendary Musaeus, teacher of Orpheus, from whom the MUSES obtained their name.” [7] (Probably there may be some connection between the name “MOSES” and “MUSIC” as derived from the “MUSES”.)

The Medrashim say that Moses had in fact TEN HEBREW NAMES, each laden with supreme insights about who he was, what his essence was all about, and what he meant to the Children of Israel, God, and the Human Race:
1. “YERED”, meaning: (a) He who “BROUGHT DOWN” the Divine Torah to this earth. (b) He who “RESTORED” the Shechina-The Divine Presence that had withdrawn to the Seventh (last) Heaven. (c) It also denotes “RULER”, for Moses had the authority of a king.
2. “AVIGDOR”, derived from the root word “GEDER”- “FENCE”, since Moses was the head of all the sages who instituted “GEDARIM”- “FENCES”, precautionary measures to protect the Torah law from being violated.
3. “CHEVER”, means “JOIN”, because Moses “JOINED the Israelites to God, by means of the Tabernacle he built.
4. “AVI SOCHO”, “FATHER OF VISION”, as Moses was the greatest prophet to “ENVISION”.
5. “YEKUTIEL”, connected to “KAVEH”- “HOPE” and attached to GOD, because Moses taught the Israelites to place their “HOPE” in GOD.
6. “AVI ZANUACH”, “FATHER OF ABANDONING (EVIL)”, connected to “LEHAZNIACH”- “TO ABANDON”, because Moses succeeded more than anyone in causing the Israelites to abandon idol worship.
7. “TOVIYAH”. When he was born, his mother saw that he was all “TOV” – “GOOD”, hence he was the “GOODNESS OF GOD”.
8. “SHEMAYA”, God “LISTENED”-“SHMA” to his prayers.
9. “BEN NETANEL”, “SON OF GOD’S GIVING”, he was the one to whom GOD “GAVE”- “NATAN” the Torah.
10. “LEVI”, “TO ACCOMPANY”, also (A PART OF THE OF TRIBE OF) “LEVI”, because Moses was from the family of the original Levi son of Jacob (Israel). [8]

Each of these unique names brings out a special facet of Moses’ multi-faceted personality, mission and role within Judaism. Above all else the following MUST be stressed, citing the key sources:In the opening of the famous “PIRKEI AVOT” – “ETHICS OF THE FATHERS” of the Oral Law’s Mishnah, the very first Mishnah opens with the statement that not only did Moses receive the Written Torah – “TORAH SHE-BICHTAV”, but he also received the much lengthier Oral Law –“TORAH SHE- BE-AL PEH”, the “explanations” and “applications” of the Written Torah as well:
“MOSHEH KIBBEL TORAH MISINAI UMESARAH LEYEHOSHUAH…” – MOSES RECEIVED THE TORAH AT SINAI AND TRANSMITTED IT TO JOSHUA…”: “The term TORAH includes the Written Law of the Five Books of Moses, and the accompanying Oral Law [as codified mainly in the Talmud and Midrashim and Codes of Law]. The interpretation of the TEXT as Divinely handed down to Moses in its entirety and expounded by successive generations of Sages. Moses received the Torah from God at Sinai in full view of all the people. The Mishnah (of Pirkei Avot here), describes this as ‘FROM SINAI’, meaning from God Who appeared at Mount Sinai. Moses expounded to them during the forty years of their wanderings through the desert, and before he died he ‘transferred’ the tradition to Joshua to ensure its perpetuation.” [9]

Thus what Moses began, continues throughout each and every generation whereby the transmission of the Torah in its entirety becomes the primary responsibility of the RABBIS, who are the TEACHERS. Their ideal and responsibility is to aspire to be like the “Moses” of their own generation responsible for continuing the mission of KEEPING ALIVE the transmission of – “JEWISH CONTINUITY!!! - the CHAIN OF TORAH TRADITION, as it’s called, since each link is vital to the wholeness and connectedness and CONTINUITY of the entire piece going all the way to Mount Sinai. Thus each truly Torah inspired educated and imbued rabbi is actually a “miniature” Moses performing all the functions as implied in ALL the meanings of Moses’ ten-plus significant names!

Many important Jewish sages have actually carried the name MOSHEH and have played key roles, as did their first namesake. The most famous is MOSES MAIMONIDES, known in Hebrew as the “RAMBAM”, an abbreviation for “Rabbi Mosheh Ben Maimon”. He lived in Spain, North Africa and Egypt, (1135-1204). He authored key works of Jewish Law (“Mosaic Law” revisited) and Philosophy, and upon his death it was declared and accepted by all that “FROM MOSES (of Mount Sinai) UNTIL MOSES (Maimonides of Spain), THERE HAS BEEN NONE LIKE (EITHER) MOSES” (meaning none was greater in the interim than either of them.). This was also added to in modern times after the passing of the most famous Talmudic Legal Scholar Rabbi MOSES Feinstein (Russia and USA, 1895-1986) who is considered to be the greatest Halachic-Legal Scholar of the modern age, and whose masterwork is called “IGROT MOSHEH” – “WRITINGS/‘LETTERS’ OF MOSES.”

Principles 6, 7, 8, and 9 all deal with every Jew’s obligation to believe in the AUTHENTICITY OF THE TORAH AS TRANSMITTED THROUGH MOSES’ TRUE PROPHECIES:
6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
[This means that God communicates with mankind, because in order for man to carry out his Divinely ordained mission, he must know what it is. Prophecy is the means by which God communicates His wishes to man.]
7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses is absolutely true. He was the chief of all prophets, both before and after him.
[Moses’ prophecy is unique, it is not only true, but of a quality un-approached by that of any other prophet before or since. It is essential that his prophecy be unrivaled so that no later “prophet” could ever claim that he had received a “New/Torah/Bible” that was “superior” to that of Moses.]
8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moses.
[The entire Torah is God-given. Every word in the Torah was dictated to Moses by God. All the verses of the Torah have equal sanctity. Moreover, the same applies to the Oral Law-Talmud, Midrash and Halachah that explain the Torah. All were given by God to Moses.]
9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be another given by God.
[The Torah is unchangeable. Since both the Written and Oral Law were God-given, they cannot be “improved” upon in any manner.] [10]

All thirteen “Principles of Faith” are repeated, re-emphasized and poetically summarized in the famous “Yigdal” –“Axalted” hymn sung at the conclusion of many synagogue services. Here are principles 6, 7, 8, and 9 translated, and as they are sung melodiously in Hebrew:
“He (God) granted His flow of prophecy to His treasured splendorous people.” (“Shefa nevu-ato netano, el anshei segulato vetifarto”)
“In Israel none like Moses arose again, a prophet who perceived His vision clearly.” (“Lo kam beYisrael keMosheh od, navi umabit et temunato.”)
“God gave His people a Torah of Truth, by means of His prophet, the most trusted in His household.” (“Torat emet natan le-amo kEl, al yad nevio ne-eman beito.”)
“God will never amend nor exchange His law for any other one, for all eternity.” (“Lo yachalif hakEl velo yamir dato, le-olamim lezulato.”) [11]

Hope you can get to sing this a few times on Shabbat!
Have a wonderful Shabbat and please let me know what you think!

[1] The Living Torah, English Translation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pp. 720 - 723; 1044-1047.
[2] The Jews and Mosaic Law, Chapter Two, Rabbi Isaac Leeser, http://www.jewish-history.com/mosaic/chapter2.htm
[3] The Living Torah, Ibid., pp. 662 – 663; 840 – 841; 1022 –1023.
[4] us-israel.org , http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/loc/Leeser.html
[5] Philip Rosenbloom, http://www.jewishmag.com/71mag/freud/freud.htm
[6] Breslov Institute, http://www.breslov.org/dvar/zmanim/pesach2_5759.htm
[7] The Living Torah, Ibid, p. 263.
[8] The Midrash Says, The Book of Sh’mos-Exodus, pp. 15 –16.
[9] Artscroll Siddur, English prayer book, pp. 544 – 545.
[10] Ibid., p. 179.
[11] Ibid., pp.12 –14.

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