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This Shabbat is the fifteenth of Adar, the day when Purim is observed in the walled cities. In Yerushalayim, “al hanissim” is added this Shabbat, thanking the Al-mighty for the miracle that occurred “in the days of Mordechai and Esther in Shushan, the capital, when the wicked Haman rose up against them. He sought to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, from young to old, children and women, on a single day... and to plunder their possessions.” We can only wonder: if, Heaven forbid, Haman would have executed his plan, if, G-d forbid, he would have succeeded in destroying, killing and annihilating all the Jews, from young to old, children and women, what difference would it have made if he confiscated their property, or if it would have been left ownerless, burnt, or taken by the authorities? Why do we bother mentioning the fate of the orphaned estate that has no owner or even relative to claim it?
The answer to this question begins with yet another pasuk that arouses wonder. When Yosef’s brothers went to Egypt to purchase grain, the viceroy charged them with espionage, took Shimon hostage and demanded that the brothers bring Binyamin. Upon their return, the brothers found their money returned to their bags. Frightened and confused, they later returned to Egypt to purchase grain, bringing with them double the money. Upon their arrival, they were called to Yosef’s palace. They reacted with panic: “They said, because of the money replaced in our bags the first time that we have been brought inside, as a pretext to attack us and seize us as slaves, as well as our donkeys” (Beresheet 43:18). The obvious question arises, if they are, indeed, sold as slaves, if they lose their freedom, what need do they have for donkeys? Why did they bother mentioning their animals?
In the end, as we know, Yosef dines with them and treats them favorably, eliminating their suspicions. They slept in the palace, and then we read: “Daylight broke, and the men were sent off, they and their donkeys” (44:3).
Our Sages ask in the Zohar Hakadosh, why does the pasuk include the donkeys in this context? They answer that while the brothers feared their being taken into slavery and their donkeys’ confiscation, in the end, both they and their donkeys left. This itself, however, begs for an explanation. Why are the donkeys mentioned at all, whether at the end or at the beginning - whether at the initial suspicion or at its ultimate falsification?
We find the answer in the work, “Noam Elimelech” (Parashat Mikess), who understands these pesukim allegorically. The person is essentially a soul, while his “donkey” - “hamor” in Hebrew - symbolizes physicality - “homri’ut” in Hebrew (related to the word, “hamor”). The person and his “donkey” - his body and physical being - are to become servants of the Al-mighty, and the sacred brothers feared that both their bodies and souls will become servants of Pharaoh, instead. These sacred words provide an opening for us to understand the simple interpretation of the pasuk. The donkeys and their cargo, the money and all possessions - all that one receives from the Al-mighty - is determined on Rosh Hashanah and meant to serve strictly as a means to serve the Creator. One’s money is intended for charity and kindness (including, and primarily, “performing charity at every moment” - supporting one’s wife and children) and support of Torah (including, and primarily, providing one’s children with a Torah education). If the Creator blesses one with wealth, He has in effect appointed him as a charity administrator and sponsor of Torah. How great a responsibility and how great is the reward! The Gemara (Temurah 16a) tells us that when a pauper comes to a wealthy man and asks for financial help, then if the latter agrees, all is well; otherwise, “Rich man and poor man meet; Hashem made them both” (Mishlei 22:2). The same One who made the man rich will now make him poor. Likewise, He who brought destitution upon the poor man will now afford him wealth. Money is given only as a deposit. If it is used for a purpose other than its intended aim - assistance and kindness to others, performance of misvot and supporting Torah, it will be taken away, Heaven forbid. We can now readily understand the brothers’ fear: “to... seize us as slaves.” They immediately recognized the danger as a punishment for their having sold Yosef and thus decided to perform teshuvah and thereby annul the harsh decree. However, an additional level of introspection is required if even their donkeys are being seized, if they are found unworthy of serving as charity coordinators and donors. But then, when their fears subsided, they were overjoyed: “the men were sent off, they and their donkeys.” Their property, too, entered the lion’s den and emerged unscathed. Hashem demonstrated His trust in them by restoring to them their possessions; their acts of kindness were accepted before the Creator.
During the times of Mordechai and Esther, too, Haman accused them, “Yeshno am ehad” - “There is one nation,” which may also be read as “yashnu” - they fell asleep, as it were, from the performance of misvot. He continued, “and it is not worthwhile for ‘the king’” - an allusion to ‘the King,’ the Creator - “to let them live.” As the land fell under the hands of the wicked and the decree was issued to destroy, kill and annihilate, Mordechai and Esther understood the situation as a signal to perform teshuvah, to fast and cry, to confess and take upon themselves to improve. “The Jews fulfilled and accepted on themselves and their progeny”; they committed themselves genuinely and wholeheartedly. But when they heard that the decree included an extra clause, “to plunder their possessions,” they understood that their property was improperly put to use. They exhibited laxity in the areas of charity and kindness, and this, too, warranted heartfelt repentance and concrete resolutions for the future: sending gifts to one another and donating charity to the poor. This is not only required on Purim, but must open our eyes and guide us throughout the entire year.
Purim for the Animals
Not everyone is aware that Purim exists among animals, too. The difference is, however, that we celebrate only one day of Purim all year, whereas they have it everyday. Needless to say, this “observance” expresses itself through dress-up and disguise. One species of butterfly dresses itself up in a very unique way for self protection. It is a quiet, harmless butterfly, like all butterflies. Its wings feature four decorative “eyes,” one on each wing. These eyes are large and open, resembling those of the owl. Why the owl? Because the owl has earned a reputation as their archenemy, as it enjoys feasting on butterflies. The moment the butterfly senses danger, it simply moves its wings, revealing the “eyes” which themselves move back and forth. The potential attacker quickly flees for its life in fear. Another disguised creature is the wasp fly. Actually, whoever looks at the fly will have a hard time believing that it is, in fact, just a fly, whereas this creature disguises itself as a wasp. Its body features yellow stripes like those of honeybees, and its color is exactly that of wasps. It can even buzz like a wasp, such that observers have a hard time deciding on this creature’s identity. Animals that feed off insects enjoy devouring flies. Yet, not one of them will ever approach this fly. Another dressed-up creature whose disguise helps it survive is a bird called the titmouse. The main fear of the titmouse, like all birds, is snakes. How does it protect itself from such a formidable enemy? By disguising itself as a snake, as it can produce sounds similar to those of a snake. We find other disguised creatures in the world of the inanimate, as well. Among the gentle, beautiful fish in the sea there are butterfly fish, which have a black spot as a tail and a long, generally black stripe along the length of the head. This stripe covers the eye. This nice, gentle fish is generally attacked right at it most sensitive spot - the eye. But once the predator sees that this eye is not the eye of a fish, it runs for its life.
The Creator, who deals with all His creatures compassionately, ensured to camouflage these creatures from their foes through special dress - a disguise. People, too, have styles of dress that characterize them. Remarkable as it may seem, the fact is that although Am Yisrael is like a sheep living among seventy wolves, nevertheless neither assimilation nor disguise like the other nations has saved our people all these years. To the contrary, this is accomplished specifically through Benei Yisrael’s unique mode of dress, the Jewish garb that emphasizes their distinction from the rest of the peoples on earth. Benei Yisrael’s refusal to change their dress is listed as among the qualities in whose merit they were redeemed from Egypt, and it likewise serves as a guarantee to the ongoing, spiritual survival of Am Yisrael.
a continuing saga - Part Two
Taken from the megillah, “Avotenu Sipru Lanu”
FLASHBACK: The heretic named Martin ignited hatred and animosity through his sermons of incitement against the remnants of the Jewish community of Barcelona, those who survived the devastating plague that ravaged the city. The wealthy Jew Yaakov Philo, among the leading and most respected members of the community, was afraid to get himself involved and attempt to calm the spirit of hate, lest he bring upon himself the fury of the authorities and masses. He therefore decided to flee from the responsibility and danger. He exchanged his holdings for cash that he hid near his grandfather’s grave and escaped to Portugal. In his rush to leave, his ledger, in which he recorded all the sums he buried, slipped out of his pocket.
There lived in Barcelona a widowed woman who supported herself and her son through her work as a laundry lady. Her son, Yaakov Banbanishti, was twenty-two years of age and an exceptionally bright and diligent student. He attained remarkable expertise in Torah scholarship and spoke the national tongue fluently. As the priest’s sermons intensified in their fury, increasing the level of animosity among the masses towards the local Jews, Yaakov felt dismayed over the crisis. He spent days and nights thinking of how to thwart the dangerous influence of the inciting priest, how to ruin him and destroy his reputation in the gentiles’ eyes. He sought to destroy the image of this priest and his fellow heretics who did whatever they could to find favor in the eyes of their new masters, selling in exchange their former fellow nationals and worshippers.
In the meantime, one crisis pursued the other. The gentiles conducted a campaign for the construction of a new church, and one thousand gold coins already accumulated in the donation box placed in the old church. One day, however, the box was broken into and all the money stolen. The priest immediately saw this incident as yet another means by which to fuel the flames of zealousness and hatred, claiming that no gentile would have dared take the sacred funds for himself. This crime could have been perpetrated only by the Jews, he declared, who love money and the desecration of all that is “sacred.” The Christians’ fury soared, and deadly riots were expected at any moment.
That night the young lad could not sleep. He was awake in bed exhausting his brain in search for a way to avoid catastrophe and eliminate the threat that now hovered over the community. Suddenly, he shuddered upon hearing his mother’s terror-stricken voice: “No! No! I will be his atonement, I will be his atonement! For him, for him - an atonement, an atonement!” The young man jumped out of bed and lit the lamp. He rushed to bring his mother a cup of water to help calm her down, and then asked quietly, “Dear mother, what happened? What’s this all about?”
She gazed at him as tears streamed down her eyes and whimpers continued from her mouth. “My dear son,” she mumbled, “I will be your atonement; I am prepared to be in your place!”
“I don’t understand what this all about,” he said. “Please tell me what happened, what shook you up like this?”
Restraining her emotion, the mother told her son that she saw in her dream her righteous grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov, after whom she named her only son. His face shone like that of a G-dly angel, and he requested that she send him her son. In her dream, the mother responded emphatically, “No! I will not send him!”
His face become stern and said angrily, “Do not disobey me; send him!” At that moment she broke out in tears, crying, “No! No!” She was prepared to go herself, to serve as her son’s atonement and give her life for his. Yaakov knew his mother well and realized that she would not approve of his telling her that the dream was meaningless. He therefore responded wisely, “Please understand, my dear mother, he did not ask that I go to him forever. He requested merely that I visit his grave, light a candle there for his soul and recite several chapters of Tehillim.”
The mother’s face glimmered with hope and said, “Indeed, without a doubt, this is what he meant! Go back to sleep, my son, and tomorrow visit his grave and bring about salvation!”
TO BE CONTINUED....
Rabbi David Ben Baruch Hakohen zs”l
In a village south of Marrakesh, Morocco, there lived around two hundred years ago a revered sadik, Rav David Ben Baruch Hakohen zs”l, known by his nickname, “Baba Dudu.” He was revered as the guide and teacher of the Jews, who would come to him when faced with any crisis and merited salvation through his blessing.
Once, on Purim, a certain Jew became intoxicated, and in his drunken stupor he went to visit his Moslem business partner. The partner saw that the Jew had reached the point where he could not differentiate between “bless Mordechai” and “curse Haman,” so he brought a piece of paper and wrote on it that the Jew sold his entire share of the business. He brought two witnesses and asked his drunken partner to sign on the bottom. The Jew giggled and signed the document, at which point he bid farewell and left. The next day he came to the store as usual, only to hear his partner tell him that he has no more rights in the store after having sold his entire share. He protested, but his partner pulled out the signed document, and the Jew realized he had fell into a trap. What could he do? He went to the sadik “Baba Dudu” and with a bitter heart told him what had happened. The sadik said to him, “Do not worry; go home and say nothing more to the Arab. Not too much time will pass when he will come to plead before you for forgiveness for what he has done!”
The Jew felt confident in the sadik’s blessing, and went home feeling calm and secure.
>From that day, various strange, awful crises began befalling the Arab. As he rode on his horse near the city’s gate, a stray stone thrown by a young Arab hit him on the head and wounded his forehead.
Two days later, he was called into the local government office and was ordered to evict his house.
Just as he was recovering from all this, the tax authorities ransacked his store. He thought to himself that perhaps all this occurred as a result of his trickery. Broken and distraught, he went to the Jew’s home, fell onto his knees, and tearfully begged for forgiveness. The Jew enjoyed light and gladness, happiness and honor - so may we!!
“You shall place inside the breastplate of judgment the ‘Urim V’tumim’”
The “hoshen” - breastplate - was a square plate worn on the kohen gadol’s chest, adjacent to his heart. Each side was a little longer than twenty centimeters, and it was woven from golden threads strung together with threads of blue, purple and white. Embroidered onto the breastplate were the twelve precious stones corresponding to the twelve tribes, the names of the tribes engraved thereon. The breastplate also had a back wall made from the same material, and in between the two walls Moshe placed the “Urim V’tumim,” a text of sacred Names transmitted to him from above. Moshe wrote it with sanctity and purity, and through them the letters on the breastplate performed their function.
“How would they consult with the breastplate? The kohen would stand facing the aron, with the inquirer behind him, facing the kohen’s back. The inquirer would say, ‘Should I go to war or not?’ He asks neither loudly nor silently, but rather in a low voice like one praying, between him and himself. Immediately, ru’ah hakodesh would overcome the kohen and he would understand the breastplate, seeing in it a form of prophetic vision ‘go’ or ‘don’t go’ in the letters that protrude from the breastplate opposite him. The kohen would then respond to him, ‘Go’ or ‘Don’t go.’” (Rambam, Hilchot Kelei Hamikdash 10:11)
The Ramban zs”l explains as follows: “The ‘Urim V’tumim’ were Names, from whose power the letters on the stones of the breastplate would illuminate before the eyes of the kohen who asks in their prescribed manner. For example, when they asked, ‘Who will go first to battle against the Canaanites?’ (Shoftim 1:1), the kohen concentrated on the names, the ‘Urim,’ and the letters of ‘Yehudah’ from the name ‘Yehudah’ on the breastplate lit up before the eyes of the kohen, as did the letters of ‘ya’aleh’ [‘shall go’] lit up, gathered [from the various names engraved on the breastplate]: ‘yud’ from ‘Levi’; ‘ayin’ from ‘Shimon’; ‘lamed’ from ‘Levi’; and the ‘hei’ from ‘Yehudah’ lit up twofold.
“Now when the letters lit up before the kohen, he still did not know their correct order, as many different words can be formed from them. But there were other sacred names, called ‘Tumim,’ through whose power the kohen’s heart would be complete in knowing the concept of the letters that lit up before him, and he will figure out that they spell ‘Yehudah ya’aleh.’ This constitutes one of the levels of ru’ah hakodesh, underneath the level of prophecy and above the ‘bat kol’ [Heavenly voice] that was used during the second Temple, after prophecy ceased and the ‘Urim V’tumim’ were hidden.”
“You shall place inside the breastplate of judgment the ‘Urim V’tumim’”
The Keli Yakar zs”l explained that the “hoshen mishpat” (“breastplate of judgment”) alludes to the rabbinical judges who conduct the nation’s legal proceedings. This was placed on the kohen’s heart, symbolizing the fact that the judges must work to reach the truth of Torah, and then they will earn Divine assistance to reach a proper, just decision. Their ruling will then be enlightening and they will be complete and perfect. Indeed, “Hashem stands in the congregation of G-d [referring to the rabbinical courts],” as the Ramban zs”l writes (Shemot 21:6): “Hashem will be with the judges in the matter of judgment, He will exonerate and He will find guilty, for judgment ultimately belongs to G-d (Devarim 1:17). Yehoshafat similarly said, ‘for you judge not on behalf of man, but on behalf of Hashem, and He is with you when you pass judgment’ (Divrei Hayamim 2 19:6). It likewise says, ‘The two men who engage in conflict shall stand before Hashem” (Devarim 19:17). The Midrash says (Shemot Rabbah 30:24) that when a judge sits and passes truthful judgment, the Al-mighty takes leave of the Heavens, as it were, and has His Shechinah reside next to him, as it says, ‘For Hashem appointed for them judges, and Hashem was with the judge’ (Shoftim 2:18).” How futile it is to ignore the rabbinical courts when involved in monetary litigation. Those who do so don’t receive a truthful, Torah judgment, decided by the Creator and His instructions, but instead turn their backs on Moshe’s Torah and consult secular courts - what a grave desecration of Hashem’s Name!
A Letter of Encouragement from Rav Aryeh Deri shlit”a
In our parashah we learn about the garments of the kohanim and the special garments donned by the kohen gadol, through which he stands out in glory and splendor. In truth, the kohanim’s clothing allude to profound, mystical secrets, and many hidden worlds depend upon them and receive illumination through them. To verify this we need only to mention the comment of Rabbenu Bahya: the “ssiss” - the sacred, golden plate - adorned the kohen gadol’s forehead and had on it the Divine Name of H-V-Y-H, and the “me’il” - long robe - had at its bottom edge seventy-two bells, corresponding to the numerical value of the Name of “H-V-Y-H” with the names of its letters spelled out, as well as the Divine Name of seventy-two letters (mentioned in Masechet Sukkah 45a and Rashi there; this is all well-known to the scholars of Kabbalah). It thus turned out that the kohen gadol was enveloped in sacred Names from head to toe!
The Gemara (Zevahim 88b; Arachin 16a) writes that each of the eight garments atoned for a certain sin. The “me’il” atoned for the violation of lashon hara - improper speech about other people, as symbolized by the clamorous bells hung along its bottom. The Gemara writes, “The Al-mighty said: let something that makes a sound come and atone for an act committed with the voice.” The question arises, what unique quality of the “me’il” affords it the ability to atone for this most serious transgression, considered equal in severity to the three cardinal sins of the Torah, and about which Hazal commented, “Whoever speaks lashon hara - the Al-mighty says to the officer of Gehinnom: I am on him from above, and you are on him down below - let us judge him!” (Arachin 15b).
Rabbi Schneur Kotler zs”l taught us a brilliant message related to this issue. Hazal liken the yesser hara (evil inclination) to a fly (Berachot 61a). The fly is attracted to dirt and filth, just like the yesser hara. Additionally, the fly makes a home for itself wherever it finds a wound or bruise. Similarly, the yesser hara locates every point of weakness, every wound, and intensifies it tenfold. Interestingly enough, scientists claim that a fly contains an enormous number of lenses in his eyes - as does the yesser hara (see Avodah Zarah 20b and Bava Batra 16a). Yet, even with all its lenses, all it sees is the filth and dirt, not the person himself.
Similarly, one who speaks of the wrongs of others establishes a home for himself on the “wound,” on the negative, on the misdeed that carries with it dirt and pollution. This is all he sees. He does not the see the person, the individual who perpetrated the sin. If he would see the person, he would understand that this act is but a tiny wound relative to the individual as a whole. The individual of whom he speaks is, in fact, full of fine qualities, sincere feelings and pure emotions, with a good heart and admirable character. If he suffers from a bruise, then the bruise will ultimate heal and disappear as if it never was. If there is a wound, it is ever so negligible in light of the personality as a whole. But the fly cannot see the entire picture; it can focus only on the weak spots, just like those who spread gossip about others.
The kohen gadol therefore dons a long robe, from his head until his feet, woven entirely from “techelet.” This color resembles that of the heavens, which stretches from one horizon to the next. This represents the required broadness of perspective that allows one to see the overall picture, the person in his entirety, how fine he is, how personable and likable he is. The wound will then appear as but a tiny blemish, rather than representative of the person. When this happens, the gossip will naturally stop. Herein lies the message of the “techelet” in the “me’il”: “The rose of Yaakov is exuberant and joyous, when they see together the ‘techelet’ of Mordechai!” Let us see only the ‘techelet,’ only the good.
A Series of Halachot
The Halachot of “Birkat Ha’ilanot”
On the second day One who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees the trees blossoming recites the blessing of “birkat ha’ilanot” (“the blessing over the trees”): “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech ha’olam shelo hiser ba’olamo kelum, u’vara vo beriyot tovot v’ilanot tovot, le’hanot [according to other versions, ‘l’hitna’ot’] bahem benei adam.”
This berachah is recited only once a year. Optimally, one should not recite it in the month of Adar, but rather in the month of Nissan. If, however, one recited the berachah in Adar, he has fulfilled his obligation and need not repeat the berachah in Nissan. If Nissan passed and one did not recite the berachah, he does so during Iyar. Similarly, people living in areas where the trees do not blossom in Nissan, such as in South America, where trees blossom during Tishrei, should recite the berachah during the month of Tishrei and not lose out on this precious berachah.
Those who are particularly diligent in the performance of misvot recite the berachah right away on Rosh Hodesh Nissan. Some have the practice of gathering in large groups for a public recitation of this berachah.
Nevertheless, strictly speaking no obligation exists to recite the berachah specifically on Rosh Hodesh Nissan, and one who fails to do so recites the berachah sometime thereafter.
One is permitted to recite “birkat ha’ilanot” on Shabbat, and we are not concerned that one may forget and rip off flowers from the tree in violation of Shabbat. Preferably, however, one should recite the berachah on a weekday. Only if one had not recited the berachah until the final Shabbat of Nissan, and he is concerned he may forget before the end of the month, should he recite the berachah on Shabbat. In areas without an “eruv” one must ensure not to carry his siddur out into the public domain for the recitation of “birkat ha’ilanot.”
It is preferable to recite the berachah over trees planted in gardens and orchards outside the city. If, however, leaving the city entails difficulty as a result of danger or illness, and certainly if this will interfere with Torah study, one may recite the berachah inside the city.
One recites “birkat ha’ilanot” only on trees that produce edible fruit; this berachah is not recited over barren trees that do not produce fruit. There should be at least two trees, even of the same species. Nevertheless, one who recites the berachah specifically when seeing several different species of trees is praiseworthy.
One should recite “birkat ha’ilanot” only at a time when the trees are producing flowers. If, however, all the flowers of a given tree had already fallen off, then even if the fruits had not yet grown to the point where they can be eaten, one does not recite the berachah over such a tree. According to some authorities, one does not recite the berachah over trees that had been grafted with another species, since they result from an act contrary to Hashem’s will. Others, however, maintain that one recites a berachah over such trees, whereas the berachah relates to creation as a whole. As for the final halachah, it would seem that it is preferable not to recite “birkat ha’ilanot” over grafted trees, since we never recite a berachah whose requirement is subject to doubt. Nevertheless, one who wishes to recite the berachah over grafted trees should not be discouraged from doing so, as he has authorities on whom to rely.
One may recite “birkat ha’ilanot” over trees within three years of their planting, despite their being “orlah” and forbidden, since no prohibition had been violated in their regard.
Women, too, recite this berachah, whereas it is not considered a time-bound obligation (from which women are exempt). Although it is instituted specifically for the month of Nissan, this is only because trees generally blossom at that time. It is proper to educate children with regard to this berachah. A boy who reaches the age of bar misvah during the month of Nissan should preferably wait until his thirteenth birthday before reciting “birkat ha’ilanot.”
One who is blind in both eyes does not recite “birkat ha’ilanot.” Nevertheless, he should preferably listen to the recitation of the berachah by another and have in mind to fulfill his obligation.
Our sacred Sages drew our attention to the fact that the Torah situated the description of Matan Torah in between two sections dealing with the judicial system. In the first section, immediately preceding Matan Torah, Moshe Rabbenu appointed judges over the people. Then, after Matan Torah, we come to our parashah: “And these are the statutes that you shall place before them.” Hashem commands us to bring every legal issue before judges who rule in accordance with Torah law, rather than courts that adjudicate based on secular law. The Shulhan Aruch prohibits bringing a case before a secular court even if both parties agree. “Whoever comes to be judged before them is considered a ‘rasha,’ as if he blasphemed the Creator who gave us the Torah, and rose up against the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu; he is worthy of excommunication” (Hoshen Mishpat, 26).
The Midrash explains this concept with an analogy to a queen riding through the center of town with the guards of honor riding before and after her. Similarly, the Torah is the queen, while the authorities who rule according to Torah law and the litigants who come to here the halachah are the “guards of honor” for the Torah!
Our rabbi, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a, urges everyone to turn in all cases to a religious Bet Din for a hearing of Torah law. This constitutes a sanctification of Hashem’s Name and a display of honor to the Torah. May Hashem grant his words of guidance widespread affect, for the honor of the Torah and the Giver of the Torah, as the prophet admonishes, “Is it that there is no G-d in Yisrael, that you go consult the gentiles’ laws?”
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