Weekly Share

Food For the Soul

Choose life

I call today upon heaven and earth as witnesses for you. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Do we really need the Torah to tell us to choose life? Which person of sound mind would choose death?

One possible answer is that one must make a conscious decision to live and not just vegetate. And I don’t mean to live it up by living life in the fast lane. To “choose life” means to choose to live a meaningful life, a life committed to values and a higher purpose. Did it make any difference at all in that I inhabited planet Earth for so many years? Will anyone really know the difference if I’m gone? Is my life productive, worthwhile?

It is told that when the fist Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, wanted to bless Reb Yekutiel Liepler with wealth, he declined the offer, saying that he was afraid it would distract him from more spiritual pursuits. When the rebbe then offered to bless him with longevity, Reb Yekutiel stipulated that it should not be “peasant’s years, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, where one neither sees nor senses G‑dliness.”

Reb Yekutiel was rather fussy, it seems. The holy rebbe is offering him an amazing blessing, and he is making conditions! Yes, he chose life, and he chose to live a life that would be purposeful and productive, and that really would make a tangible difference. He wasn’t interested in a long life if, essentially, it would amount to an empty life. As we stand just before Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to choose life. Let us live lives of Torah values and noble deeds. And may we be blessed with a good and sweet new year.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Preparing for Rosh Hashana

September 12 marks the last Shabbat in the Jewish year 5780. Next week, we begin a New Year – Rosh Hashana – at sundown on the eve of Tishrei 1, 5781 (Sept. 18) and ending after nightfall on Tishrei 2, 5781 (Sept. 20). Some synagogues have reopened in a limited fashion. Yet, millions of Jews still patiently bide their time before they will once again mingle with others. Please remember that you are not alone. The website www.chabad.org is filled with inspiration about the High Holidays (including prayers) which you can print out in advance of the Yom Tov. If you are planning to go to shul, check out their Chabad House locator to learn where you can attend services near you. At MADA, instead of holding our usual Holiday dinners we are bringing Holiday meals to those who sign up for them. For information about receiving a meal and for volunteering and donating to this program visit www.madacenter.com


Mind Over Matter

Who is a kosher Jew?

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow writes: “I once met a Jewish couple in an apartment building where I had koshered someone’s kitchen. When I told them that a new Jewish family was about to move into their building they rejoiced. When I mentioned that I had just koshered the new family’s kitchen they said, “Aaah, that kind of Jew.” After a brief pause they recovered and said, “That’s all right, we welcome all kinds to our building.” This is the vital mistake that G_d wants us to avoid when we read the Torah…The laws of kosher are not for the other kind of Jew. They are for you and me and every Jew on the planet… The kosher Jew is not a different kind of Jew. He is your kind. You too are a kosher Jew. Even if you don’t know it yet.”


Moshiach Thoughts

Preparing for Moshiach

The Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed to various global phenomena that are clear indicators that the process of redemption has indeed started, and asked that we prepare ourselves for Redemption by beginning to “live with Moshiach,”—living a life that is dominated by the values that will characterize the Messianic Era. One primary way this is accomplished is through studying about the Messianic Era. Studying about it makes it a reality in our lives, and allows us to live a life of redemption even in these last moments before we witness the complete and true redemption. Chabad.org


Have I got a Story

Where do we look for meaning?

There is a familiar story of a man searching the sidewalk for his keys and looking frantically under the streetlight. When questioned by a passerby as to where he may have lost his keys, the man admits that he lost the keys inside his house. Since the light was so much brighter outside under the streetlight, however, he thought it best to look there.

We read this and think … what a fool, looking for his lost object in obviously the wrong place, just because it is the “easiest” place to look. But at least this fool knows what he lost and where he lost it. Can we say the same? Many of us are not only looking in the wrong place for our lost objects, but we are even not sure what we’re looking for. And yet, we are driven to search on and on. To what end?

According to Freud, the primary drive of man is the pursuit of pleasure. “Not so,” said Nietzsche, “the primary drive of man is the pursuit of power.” Viktor Frankl, the world-famous Viennese psychiatrist who suffered for three years in concentration camps during the Holocaust (and who endured the murder of his entire family and pregnant wife) nevertheless founded “logotherapy,” which is the theory that the primary drive of man is not pleasure or power, but the search for meaning.

So if a human being’s primary drive is the search for meaning, where do we look? If it’s not in the Himalayas, the ashram, the shrink’s couch, the self-help section of the bookstore, the office, the lab, the studio, the field or even the sanctuary, then where?

In the Torah portion Nitzavim, Moses tells us exactly where to look. “It is not in heaven. Nor is it across the sea. Rather, the matter is very near to you—in your mouth and your heart—to perform it.” Moses spoke these words to the Jewish people on the last day of his life, knowing that it was the last day of his life. The stakes couldn’t be higher. What is this matter “that is near and dear that we are to perform”? “To love God, to walk in His ways and to observe His commandments.” In a word, to embody the Torah.

Wait … did I just lose you? “Sorry,” you say, “but Torah is not the meaning of my life.” If your view of Torah is that it is a bunch of dry, archaic “do’s” and “don’ts,” commanding strict, automaton-like adherence to meaningless and empty ritual, then I would totally agree with you. I wouldn’t find that meaningful in the slightest. But that’s not my view of the “matter of Torah.”

If your religion doesn’t make you a better person, spouse, parent, friend and lover of your fellow, it’s not the “matter of Torah.” If your religion doesn’t make you compassionate and yearn to alleviate suffering, it’s not the “matter of Torah.” If you are not inspired to love justice and truth, and strive to live humbly with integrity, then it’s simply not the “matter of Torah.”

The “matter of Torah” that Moses tells us to look for is within us, in our hearts. It has to be real, and we have to own it. Otherwise, it may as well be high up in the heavens or across the distant sea; it means nothing as it is too far out of our orbit to be relevant. But let’s be clear. It is we who push Torah away, who say it’s not relevant or accessible. And as long as we keep this lie on our lips, we will keep looking for meaning under that streetlight.

That doesn’t mean we get to decide on our own what Torah is or what it means. It doesn’t mean that we can overlay the Torah with the imprimatur of our emotions or political viewpoints. Many phenomena exist objectively and independent of us. Certain things just “are,” like gravity, which doesn’t need our “buy-in” to be real and to affect us. On the other hand, while Torah also has an independent truth and reality, Torah very much wants our “buy-in.” G‑d wants our partnership.

Condensed from an article by Hanna Perlberger

Food For the Soul

Forewarning

It stands out prominently in the Parsha Ki Tavo: fifty-five consecutive verses of nightmarish misery and torture, all destined to befall the Jewish people when they will be exiled from their land because of their sins. Even if G‑d intended to bring all these punishments on His people, what is the purpose in describing them in the Torah in such gruesome detail? Sadly, every one of these dreadful prophecies has come to pass. Indeed, if these verses wouldn’t be part of the Torah, they could be mistaken for a Holocaust memoir written by a concentration camp survivor.

After experiencing such horrors it is only natural to ask, “Where was G‑d?” and, “If there really is a G‑d, how could He allow the inhumanity and cruelty of the Holocaust?” No one questions the source of our blessings, but after enduring excruciating pain, people begin to have doubts. Perhaps this is why all the suffering is so vividly portrayed in the Torah. How can the Holocaust be used to deny G‑d’s existence when G‑d Himself informed us that this event will occur? This is not to say that we can possibly understand the reasons for our nation’s tormented history, but we do know that it is all from G‑d – and therefore ultimately for our good.

Reading this Parsha and seeing how it has actually all come to pass offers us a measure of hope. It strengthens our belief that we will also certainly see the realization of the conclusion of this prophecy (in next week’s Parsha): “The L-rd, your G‑d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you… Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the L-rd, your G‑d, will gather you from there…And the L-rd, your G‑d, will place all these curses upon your enemies and upon your adversaries who pursued you.”

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Shabbat Shalom

Wine before you dine

Shabbat enters with words of wonder poured upon rich wine, to fulfill the verse, “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” We call it kiddush, a ritual of words and drink, a magical bridge from the harried weekday to the day of rest. So enchanted we are by the kiddush that we repeat it again in a different form by day. The kiddush serves as the kickoff for the evening and daytime Shabbat meals.

The nighttime kiddush consists of three parts: 1) Three verses from Genesis that recount how G‑d rested on the seventh day and sanctified it. 2) The blessing for wine. 3) A blessing thanking G‑d for giving us the Shabbat.

The daytime kiddush consists of several verses from Exodus, followed by the blessing on wine.

For kiddush “how to”, visit www.chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

Love, according to The Rebbe

A person who loves G‑d, and is open to this love, will eventually come to love what G‑d loves — all His children. And his love will drive him to wish to bring G‑d’s children close to Torah — because that’s what G‑d loves. One who loves the Torah, will eventually internalize the recognition that the Torah’s purpose and raison d’etre is to lovingly bring together G‑d and all His children. And one who truly loves a fellow Jew will inevitably come to love G‑d, since love of one’s fellow is, in essence, the love of G‑d; and he will be driven to bring his fellow Jews close to Torah, which is the expression and actualization of their bond with G‑d.

From an article by Rabbi Yanki Tauber


Moshiach Thoughts

Be Happy

Rochel Holzkenner writes: “The commitment to live life with joy [even during hardship] was given great emphasis during the Chassidic Revolution. And, like any of G‑d’s directives, it oftentimes takes tremendous commitment and self-discipline. In 1988 the Rebbe said that the way to bring about the final global transformation and redemption is to increase in joy, with the intent of bringing the complete redemption. Just by being happy, we have power to break through our personal barriers and the barriers of exile. Simply put—be happy. It will benefit you. It will benefit the world.”


Have I got a Story

Jewish and joyless?

In the middle of Ki Tavo’s terrifying and ominous curses, there is a one-liner that seems to suggest the root cause of our problems. All this calamity will befall you “because you did not serve the L‑rd, your G‑d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant.”

The simple meaning of this verse is that we will experience these curses because we did not serve G‑d in the “good times,” when we were enjoying prosperity and abundance. We became smug, complacent, and forgot our Maker and our higher calling—why we were put here in the first place.

Commentaries offer various other interpretations, including the idea that we simply did not serve G‑d b’simchah, with joy. We may have done all the right things, but we did them with a heavy heart. We served G‑d and observed His commandments reluctantly and without any feeling. There was no enthusiasm, no joy. Being Jewish had become a burden. We found our joy and satisfaction in other areas of life, perhaps even in the undesirable and unholy domains.

The story is told of a Jew in Russia of old who was doing some business with the poretz, the local Russian squire. The squire invited the Jew to a business lunch, where he offered him pork chops and non-kosher wine. When the Jew declined to partake, citing the Jewish dietary laws, the squire asked, “What if you were stranded in a desert and had nothing to eat but this? Would you not eat it to save your life?”

“Well, if it was matter of life and death, then I would be permitted to eat it,” replied the Jew. Suddenly the squire jumped up from the table, pulled out a revolver and, pointing it at the Jew, shouted, “Drink the wine or I’ll shoot!” Immediately, the Jew gulped down the wine. The squire burst out laughing and said, “I was only joking.” Whereupon the Jew turned red with anger and glared furiously at the squire. “Why are you so angry?” the squire asked. “Why am I so angry? I’ll tell you why!” the Jew replied. “You couldn’t have forced me to eat the pork chops!” That Jew kept kosher, but was he doing it happily or begrudgingly? While keeping kosher, was he fantasizing about pork chops?

The 19th-century Russian czars tried to Russify young Jewish boys by drafting them into the army for a 25-year stretch. These children, known as cantonists, would be separated from their families, their people and their faith. Despite their extreme suffering, many maintained their allegiance to the G‑d of Israel with total commitment and heroism. Indeed, too many paid with their lives. The story is told of some of these young men who were forcibly conscripted and taken far away from their families. They wrote a letter to one of the leading rabbis of Russia, asking for his advice about what to do about kosher. Should they eat the non-kosher food, or allow themselves to suffer malnutrition and perhaps even starve to death? The wise rabbi answered them as follows. “If, in order to stay alive, you have no choice but to eat treif, then so be it. But, please, I beg of you, don’t suck the marrow bones.”

Where is our enjoyment, our pleasure, our geshmak?

Is there joy in our Judaism, or is it tedious and tired? It is not enough just to do the right thing. G‑d wants our joy, our enthusiasm, our fervor and fire. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, let us resolve to do whatever it takes to find the inspiration we need to energize and invigorate our Jewish lives. Let us serve G‑d. And let us serve Him with joy.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Food For the Soul

Our battles in life

How many battles did you fight today? None, you say? Think again. Did you fight fatigue in order to pry your eyes open this morning? Did you fight the mad traffic jam to navigate to work? Every day, every hour, every minute, we wage countless battles. The Parsha Ki Teitzei begins by telling us about our battles and clues us in on vital knowledge to win them. “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L‑rd your G‑d shall deliver them into your hands and you shall capture from them captives.”  (Deut 21:10). The Torah doesn’t write, if you go out to war, but rather when. Turbulence and struggle is inevitable. We fight real wars just as we fight moral one. We fight character traits just as we struggle to use our time wisely and develop our talents fully. We battle to protect loved ones. Here are 3 important things to know about your wars.

1. Your battles don’t define you.  Just because we are constantly engaged in struggle doesn’t mean that we are defined by them. We win and inevitably we lose. Don’t focus on your losses; you are far more than your conflicts.

2. You are not fighting alone. When your battles become oppressive, when your enemy gains the upper hand, you may need to take a step back and re-evaluate. Affirm that there is no true existence other than G‑d. This means that nothing contrary to G‑d’s goodness and truth has any real power over you.

3. You can grow from your experience. Anything negative in man or in the world can be exploited for the good. You were exposed to your circumstances for a reason. Find a lesson in every situation.

From an article by Chana Weisberg


Shabbat Shalom

Do not misplace your compassion

This Shabbat…we will listen to a reading from the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) that tells us to hate. “Remember what Amalek did to you…” we read. “Eradicate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; do not forget!” Amalek was not the only nation to attack us; in the course of our 4,000 year history, there were many others who did the same, and worse. Yet Amalek is singled out as the very essence of evil. There was no rational reason for Amalek’s attack on us, no conceivable gain in doing so. Amalek simply hates goodness and seeks to destroy it wherever it flourishes in G_d’s world. Yes, we are enjoined to love all G_d’s creatures and creations, including the less loveable ones amongst them. But when pure hatred rears its head, it must be destroyed. In the wise words of our sages: “He who is compassionate to the cruel, ends up being cruel to the compassionate.”

From an article by Rabbi Yanki Tauber


Mind Over Matter

The upper hand over evil

When we contend with evil, we are “going out to war.” We are “going out” of our true selves, for waging war is unnatural. Our soul’s native environment is the peaceful, infinite Divine consciousness it experienced before it entered the body. Since our souls originate in G‑d’s essence, and evil has no power against G‑d’s essence, we have the upper hand over evil even before the battle has begun. We are “upon” – i.e., above – our enemies. In addition, G‑d only created evil in the first place in order for us to vanquish it. For both these reasons, the Torah goes on to assure us that “G‑d will deliver your enemy into your hands.”

TheRebbe.org


Moshiach Thoughts

Preparing the world to know G-d

Because the task of refining the world is often compared to a battle, one of the criteria given to identify Mashiach… is that he will “wage the wars of G‑d.” For it is possible that the task of refining the world will require actual conflict, so that Mashiach must “fill the world with justice” by “destroying the power of the wicked and waging the wars of G‑d.” This, however, is merely a stage. Ultimately, Mashiach will “vanquish all the nations surrounding him… and perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together,” thus initiating the era when “there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition… [and] the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.”

From an article by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger


Have I got a Story

Beyond labels

I recently read a fascinating essay where the author describes an encounter she had with a couple in the streets of Jerusalem. The couple described themselves as “chilonim” (secular). Rather than concur with their self-definition, the author started gently probing, in a bid to help them realize how Jewishly oriented they truly were.

“You live in Israel, don’t you,” she challenged them. “You’re honest, decent, moral people who honor your parents, celebrate a Passover Seder, circumcise your sons and contribute to the betterment of Israeli society. You’re not “secular”; you are fine, upstanding Jews.”

It’s a subtle but important point to make. We all need to improve. We all have failings that hold us back, but that’s not a reason to label ourselves in relation to our Judaism.

However, I wonder, just because someone honors their parents, does that mean they’re following a Jewish way of life? Maybe they attend synagogue once a year out of habit rather than belief. They might be honest in business, but are they acting that way for G‑d, or out of a sense of personal morality? Maybe this couple’s self-definition wasn’t really so inaccurate?

There is a fascinating insight of the Rebbe on the mitzvah of shikchah, which is discussed in the parsha Ki Teitzei. There are certain biblically mandated gifts that we are commanded to give as charity. Ten percent of our income is donated for ma’aser, we leave pe’ah (the corners of our fields) unharvested for paupers, and anything we forget in the field by accident, shikcha, we are commanded to leave behind for those who are less fortunate.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a bundle behind, you may not go back for it. It must be left for the convert, the orphan and the widow, so that G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in everything you do (Deut. 24:19)

The commentator Rashi wonders: why will G‑d bless you when you didn’t mean to leave the bundle of grain behind in the first place? You were forgetful, but not necessarily generous. He points out that you don’t need to have a perfect intention in order to fulfill a mitzvah. Even if someone drops money that is subsequently found and kept by a poor person, the mitzvah of giving charity has been fulfilled.

The Rebbe questions: How is this a mitzvah? You didn’t mean to give charity. You had no positive intentions. Quite possibly you were even angry or disappointed when you realized your mistake. Where’s the merit in your actions?

The Rebbe points out that it is an axiom of Chassidic belief that, deep down, every Jew truly wants to do the right thing and serve G‑d. So, the person who dropped money actually wished to give tzedakah. Those who respect  their parents are moral, ethical beings who, subconsciously perhaps, love serving G‑d. That’s the real you and the real Jew.

You wish to be good. You want to give charity. You’d love to sit and learn Torah all day. You like people, want to keep Shabbat and dream of living a good Jewish life. You just don’t know it (yet).

Whatever good you do—even the inadvertent, unanticipated actions that in retrospect turn out for the best—comes from the soul and, because in your heart of hearts you love G‑d and dedicate yourself to mitzvahsG‑d will “bless you in everything you do.”

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

Food For the Soul

Try to see the good in others

The Parshah Shoftim  begins with the biblical command for judges to be appointed in every city and town to adjudicate and maintain a just, ordered, civil society. Interestingly, it occurs in the first week of Elul, the month in which we are to prepare in earnest for the Days of Judgment ahead, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

There are, however, some significant differences between earthly judges of flesh and blood and the heavenly judge. In the earthly court, if after a fair trial a defendant is found guilty, then there’s really not much room for clemency on the part of the judge. The law is the law and must take its course. The accused may shed rivers of tears, but no human judge can be certain if his remorse is genuine. The Supreme Judge, however, does know whether the accused genuinely regrets his actions or is merely putting on an act. Therefore, He alone is able to forgive. That is why in heavenly judgments, teshuvah (repentance) is effective.

A teacher once conducted an experiment. He held up a white plate and showed it to the class. In the center of the plate was a small black spot. He then asked the class to describe what they saw. One student said he saw a black spot. Another said it must be a target for shooting practice. A third suggested that the plate was dirty or damaged. Whereupon the teacher asked, “Doesn’t anyone see a white plate?”

There may have been a small black spot, but essentially it was a white plate. Why do we only see the dirt? Let us learn to find the good in others. Nobody is perfect, not even ourselves. Let’s not be so judgmental and critical. Let’s try to see the good in others.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman


Shabbat Shalom

Experience the energy

The unique quality of Shabbat derives from two types of mitzvot: the mitzvot of sanctification such as candle-lighting and Kiddush; and the equally important mitzvot which require that we refrain from certain activities and work. The prohibitions against “work,” far from being negative or burdensome, are an integral part of the experience of Shabbat as a day when body and soul are in true harmony. Writes Rabbi Pinchas Taylor, “Classifying something as work is not assessed by the amount of sweat that drips from the brow, it is whether this action is a creative change or shows human mastery over nature. Refraining from these acts, in even the most minor manifestations, opens one up to be a conduit to experience the energy of harmony and tranquility which G‑d made available during this day.” For information about observing Shabbat, visit Chabad.org


Mind Over Matter

G-d is with you

In Shoftim we read: ”When you go out to war against your enemies and you see a horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for the L‑rd, your G‑d is with you.” 

Rashi explains that it’s a question of perspective. When we look at the forces arrayed against us, we see an impregnable foe, more numerous than us and fully equipped to conquer. Yet, from G‑d’s perspective, there’s nothing there. It’s as statistically insignificant as a single horse. If we stopped looking for problems, we could start working towards the solutions. The host of enemies that we thought were attacking us were really just as insignificant as a single horse and, with G‑d’s help, we will overcome.

Excerpted from an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum


Moshiach Thoughts

The era of “counsellors”

Much of our world is sadly, immersed in darkness and so the need for law enforcement officers is beyond question. However, during the Messianic era, when all the nations of the world will pursue the study of G-d and Torah, “Instead of officers there will be counselors,” wrote Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet. “The task of the counselors is to explain and clarify to litigants the words and decisions of the judge so that they will understand and realize how those decisions are in the peoples’ best interest and for their own benefit. Thus the people themselves will want to follow the court’s judgments. It follows, then, that in the Messianic era there will no longer be a need for officers to enforce the law, for all shall willingly live up to their obligations.”


Have I got a Story

Are you objective?

There was once a king who was very fond of target shooting. He practiced daily and arranged competitions. With time he felt that he had gotten pretty good at the sport, yet he continued trying to improve. One day, as he was traveling through the countryside, the king noticed several target boards near a small peasant hut. Looking closely, he was astonished to see that every one of the many darts on the boards was precisely in the center! This simple peasant was apparently an expert; he had hit a bull’s-eye with every try!

Curious to learn how the man had done it, the king knocked on the door of the hut. The peasant who answered laughed heartily at the the king’s question. “Why, it’s very simple,” he replied naively. “Instead of drawing the target and aiming towards it, I throw the darts, and then draw the circles around them. It works every time . . .”

The Parsha Shoftim includes a prohibition for judges to take bribes. The Torah then explains the reason for this commandment: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “No kidding, that’s the definition of a bribe! What kind of reason is that?”

Good point. But, actually, the Torah is not trying to explain what’s wrong with paying off a judge; it’s obvious that corrupting fair judgment is immoral. Rather, the Torah seeks to clarify a fact. Often, people say, “I can be objective in this case, despite my connection to it.” Recognizing the difficulty of proper judgment when personal concerns are involved, we may nonetheless convince ourselves that we are immune to bribery, intellectually and emotionally capable of separating fact from feeling.

Yet the Torah cautions us that the danger of bribery is not merely a possibility, nor even a probability. It is an automatic effect. Bribery –monetary or otherwise –skews one’s perception, literally “blinding” him to reality. No one is immune.

We are all judges, all of the time. There are important decisions to be made constantly, and these require clear thinking and examination of facts. But often, we may be swayed by bribes –personal concerns, interests and feelings. We may have the best of intentions, yet the possibility of a purely objective decision is technically out of our reach, “for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”

For this reason, it is crucial that every one of us have a mentor, an objective individual upon whom we rely to help us make decisions. Before signing on the dotted line, run it by someone out of the picture. It’s a sort of reality check, a way to make sure that we are aiming towards the target, rather than adjusting the goal to suit us.

By Rabbi Mendy Wolf.

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