Shiur #25: The Land of Israel (8): Mikra Bikkurim and Viduy Ma’aser
In this shiur, we shift our attention from the mitzva of bringing bikkurim to the mitzva of reciting a text upon their offering (“mikra bikkurim”). We have already seen how some of the rules that govern the offering of bikkurim defy the regular principles of “mitzvot ha-teluyot ba-aretz” and link bikkurim directly to the legacy of our forefathers in the Land of Israel. The content and framework of mikra bikkurim only reinforces these connections. Furthermore, the contrast between mikra bikkurim and a neighboring text, the “confession” regarding the tithes (“viduy ma’aser”), highlights the unique message and symbolism of each of these two recitations.
Mikra Bikkurim and Viduy Ma’aser
Though the mitzva of presenting bikkurim to the Temple is mentioned twice in Sefer Shemot (23:19 and 34:26), the Torah returns to the topic in greater detail at the tail end of Moshe’s fifteen chapter-long list of mitzvot in Sefer Devarim. There, the Torah also introduces the mitzva of mikra bikkurim and juxtaposes it with viduy ma’aser, the last mitzva on the list.
As two recitations that relate to agricultural mitzvot in the Land of Israel and that are not connected to the immediately preceding mitzvot, mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser stand out as their own distinct mini-unit. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the two recitations are very different from one another. In fact, the contrast between them can shed further light on each one of these individual mitzvot, on our multidimensional relationship with the Land of Israel, on berit Avot and berit Sinai in general and, finally, on the broader nature of Jewish living that the list of mitzvot in Sefer Devarim comes to script.
Mikra bikkurim tells a collective story, on a grand scale, reaching back to the dawn of Jewish existence: “A poor Aramean was my father” (26:5). It focuses on the relationship of God and the Jewish people through history, following us from enslavement in Egypt through deliverance to the Promised Land:
We cried out to Hashem, God of our forefathers. He heard our voices, and He saw our suffering, our burden and our oppression. God took us out of Egypt… He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (26:7, 9)
As we discussed in shiur #20, mikra bikkurim succinctly recapitulates the narrative of berit bein ha-betarim in retrospect, which is why the Sages chose it as the basis for our Seder night expositions. In essence, mikra bikkurim tells the story of berit Avot, starting with our forefathers themselves and culminating with the fruits of the Land of Israel that this pilgrim is laying at the base of the Temple altar.
Viduy ma’aser, on the other hand, constitutes a very personal, detailed accounting: “I have cleared out that which is holy from my house… in keeping with the entirety of Your commandment that You commanded me. I did not violate Your commandments, nor did I forget” (26:13). There is no story here, only a review of the minutiae of observance that the mitzvot of the Land of Israel demand: “I did not eat from [the second tithe] during my mourning, I did not consume it in impurity and I did not make use of it for the deceased” (26:14). In a word, the covenant that viduy ma’aser reflects is that of Sinai—halakhic Judaism in all of its familiar, legalistic rigor, ahistorical and predominantly focused upon personal conduct.
Furthermore, mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser not only reflect berit Avot and berit Sinai, respectively, but also demonstrate some of those covenants’ most salient features. First, the different ways in which the speakers relate themselves to their heritage are striking. Whereas one who recites viduy ma’aser attests to his meticulous adherence to a covenant—“I have done everything that You commanded me” (26:14)—the bearer of first fruits is not so much observing a covenant as he is participating in one. Having reviewed the full arc of berit Avot, the bearer of first fruits merely notes that he, too, is living in the context of this covenant, as symbolized by his offering: “And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the soil that You, God, gave me” (26:10). In viduy ma’aser, on the other hand, the individual and his personal responsibilities are in the spotlight, and only in closing does he place them in the larger context of “the land that You gave us, as You swore to our forefathers” (26:15).
Second, whereas the bearer of first fruitstells his story and no more, viduy ma’aser closes with a short prayer: “Look down from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless your nation, Israel, and the land that You gave us” (26:15). The quid pro quo that is implicit in this verse is spelled out by the Mishna: “We did what You decreed upon us; so should you do that which You promised us” (Ma’aser Sheini 5:13). As a source for this promise, Rashi references a genuine quid pro quo—“If you walk in My statutes… I will give you rain in due season” (Vayikra 26:3-4)—which the Torah directly links to Mt. Sinai (26:46). As viduy ma’aser reflects the contractual nature of berit Sinai, its reciter has every right to turn to God, the “other party,” and ask Him to keep His end of the bargain.
In contrast, the bearer of bikkurim demands nothing. He does not seek rewards for performance but instead revels in the plain fact of his own participation in berit Avot, as symbolized by the fruits he offers from their land. For berit Avot, joint participation is not a prerequisite for success but is the goal in and of itself, and that is what the bearer of bikkurim celebrates.
Finally, through this analysis we appreciate what a powerful ending mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser provide for the central speech of Sefer Devarim. Each one encapsulates one dimension of the comprehensive Jewish experience. Together, they charge us to periodically recommit ourselves to the dual covenants that frame our lives and duties, particularly with regard to the Land of Israel. As the culmination to a block of mitzvot that primarily govern life in the Land of Israel at both the macro and micro levels, mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser succinctly remind us about our multifaceted relationship with our beloved Land, as a place of both sanctity and destiny, as well as with God and His mandate more generally.
Differences Between the Laws of Mikra Bikkurim and the Laws of Viduy Ma’aser
If the content of mikra bikkurim and that of viduy ma’aser are indeed so different from one another, then we might expect the rules that govern their recitations to also diverge. We can consider several examples:
The most obvious halakhic difference between mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser lies in the prerequisites for reciting them. As viduy ma’aser is an attestation to one’s ideal fulfillment of the law, any minor deviation from its intentions, even one that does not technically violate a rule, can impede the recitation of viduy ma’aser. The recitation of mikra bikkurim, on the other hand, like participation in berit Avot itself, does not depend on one’s punctiliousness. As long as the individual is “living the covenant,” as represented through his first fruits, he is welcome to pledge his affiliation. Thus the main impediment to the recitation of mikra bikkurim is a disconnect between the fruit and one’s relationship with the Land of Israel, as in the case of one who designated his bikkurim and subsequently sold his land (Bikkurim 1:7).
2. The Format of the Recitation
Mikra bikkurim must be recited in the original Hebrew, while viduy ma’aser can be said in any language (Sota 32a). Presumably, this distinction reflects the different natures of the two speeches. Mikra bikkurim is a formal declaration that relates first and foremost to the nation’s collective experience and only indirectly to the individual, as a participant in national destiny. Its recitation is not an act of self-expression, but a ceremony through which the individual binds himself to something that transcends his own personal circumstances. Therefore, he must recite mikra bikkurim in its original format. Viduy ma’aser, on the other hand, is a personal statement and therefore can be personalized to one’s language of choice.
Ma’aser Sheini 5:13-14 excludes converts from the recitation of viduy ma’aser, “as they do not have a share in the Land.” Therefore, they cannot say “the land that You gave us,” according to the Rambam’s commentary, or “as You swore to our forefathers” (26:15), as he explains in Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Ma’aser Sheini 11:17; see Frenkel edition). With regard to mikra bikkurim, however, the Rambam (Hilkhot Bikkurim 4:2-3) rules that a convert can engage in the ritual, even though he must say “the land that You, God, gave me” (26:10). What is the difference?
The question is further compounded by the status of women vis-א-vis each of these mitzvot. As women were not included in the distribution of the Land of Israel, the mishna excludes women from mikra bikkurim, based on the words, “the land that You, God, gave me” (Bikkurim 1:5). The relevance of viduy ma’aser to women, on the other hand, is not addressed by the Mishna. The Sefer Ha-chinukh writes explicitly that only men recite viduy ma’aser (mitzva #607). The Rambam, however, is silent about this issue, leading R. Moshe Soloveichik (“Be-din Ger Meivi Ve-korei,” Kovetz Chiddushei Torah, 2) and mori ve-rabbi R. Aharon Lichtenstein (“Netilat Chelek Be-Eretz Yisrael Al Yedei Shevet Levi,” Minchat Aviv, 91-92) to conclude that both men and women recite viduy ma’aser.
At the very least, a convert’s ability to recite mikra bikkurim is inconsistent with women’s exclusion from mikra bikkurim and his own exclusion from viduy ma’aser. Moreover, according to R. Moshe Soloveichik and R. Lichtenstein, the tables are completely turned. A convert recites mikra bikkurim but not viduy ma’aser, while a woman recites viduy ma’aser but not mikra bikkurim!
Multiple answers have been suggested to this problem. Methodologically, we are looking for a solution that not only posits a formal distinction between the criteria for mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser, but that also fits within a broader understanding of the differences between these two mitzvot.
R. Yosef Korkos, an early sixteenth-century commentator on the Rambam, notes a subtle difference in the wordings of mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser. In mikra bikkurim, the bearer of the fruit announces that he has reached the land “that God swore to our forefathers to give to us” (26:3). He first mentions God’s oath to the Avot and secondarily relates that oath to their progeny—“to give to us.” In viduy ma’aser, the order is switched: “the land that You gave us, as you swore to our forefathers.” The confessor relates first and foremost to his own land, but then elaborates that he inherited it from the Avot. In mikra bikkurim, the reciter relates to berit Avot as a whole and seeks to find his place within it; in viduy ma’aser, the reciter begins with his own parcel of land and then links it to the larger framework of berit Avot.
How does this distinction account for the discrepancy regarding converts? R. Korkus explains that regarding mikra bikkurim:
We can say that because [the Land of Israel] belonged to our Avot, it is not problematic if [the convert] includes himself within the rest of the children of Avraham, even though, truthfully, he has no share [in the Land]; for he is not saying that this field is [his] by force of [God’s] oath, rather, that He swore to give the Land to the entire nation of Avraham’s children. This is not true regarding [viduy] ma’aser, in which [the confessor] specifies that his right to the field is by dint of the oath.
R. Korkos’s first point, that converts are fundamentally relevant to God’s promise of the Land of Israel to our Avot, echoes a similar point made by the Ramban. Converts can recite mikra bikkurim, the Ramban writes, for “they are children of Avraham, and they were deserving of his inheritance, but the Land was divided [only] amongst those who left Egypt, and therefore [converts] are similar to children who were deserving of inheriting but there was nothing for them” (Bava Batra 81a). The exclusion of converts from the inheritance of Avraham’s land is a quirk of history. Fundamentally, the convert can proudly proclaim himself a child of Avraham and a participant in the covenant that was forged with our Avot around the Land of Israel.
More, the convert can represent this covenant. If he owns land, then the first of its fruits can symbolize God’s everlasting promise to the Avot that their progeny will inhabit the Land of Israel, even though this convert had to purchase his particular field. He has come to speak about berit Avot, not about himself, and so his absence from the historical land distribution does not derail his reflections. As a male, he belongs to the subset of Jews who collectively maintain possession of the Land of Israel, and therefore he can include himself in the phrase “to give to us.”
In viduy ma’aser, by contrast, the confessor states that he has an actual share “by force of the oath.” He does not speak of berit Avot in the abstract, but traces his own tangible share in the Land of Israel to that source, which the convert cannot do. As R. Korkos explains further:
Even though [the Land] belongs to our forefathers, it doesn’t make sense [for a convert] to say that God gave him, as He swore, for there was no oath on this, and he does not have a share [in the Land] by force of the oath.
In other words, God promises that the Avot will bequeath shares in the Land of Israel to their descendants, but this oath does not relate to foreigners who convert.
Here, it seems, we have a gap between national and private ownership. Converts participate in the Jewish people’s collective hold on the Land of Israel that berit Avot anticipates, but they cannot trace their private ownership back to the same. Women, on the other hand, are in the opposite position. When they inherit land, as the daughters of Tzelofchad did (see Bamidbar 27:6-11), their ownership originates in the Avot’s possession of the Land. Therefore, they may say “the land that You gave us, as you swore to our forefathers” in the context of viduy ma’aser. However, their personal ownership does not represent our collective hold on the Land of Israel that emanates from berit Avot, as the Land, fundamentally, was entrusted to the men of Israel to conquer and thus possess.
Viduy Ma’aser and Berit Avot
One question remains. R. Korkos’s explanation of mikra bikkurim as focusing upon berit Avot and its legacy is entirely consistent with the picture of bikkurim that has emerged for us until now. His assertion that viduy ma’aser can only be recited by one whose entitlement to the Land of Israel is “by force of the oath,” however, is less easily understood. Every Jew, born or converted, must strictly follow the laws of tithes and other mandated gifts, whether the land that he or she tills is inherited or purchased. A declaration of adherence should be equally applicable to everyone. Why is God’s promise to the Avot relevant to viduy ma’aser at all?
Perhaps the answer lies in the specific context of the confessor’s invocation of berit Avot. It appears not in the first part of viduy ma’aser, in which the confessor proclaims his own diligence, but only in the last verse, where he asks God for a blessing. With respect to observance of the law, we are all equal; but we differ, it seems, in our ability to ask for blessing in the Land of Israel in return. Perhaps the covenant inherent in viduy ma’aser belongs only to those who inherit land directly, for along with the land they inherit responsibility for its spiritual upkeep. In addition to the general berit Sinai, it seems, there is a particular covenant around the Land of Israel and its mitzvot, whose weight is borne by those who inherit the Land from their parents and grandparents. On the flipside, though all Jews must tithe their produce, only those who receive land “by force of the oath” can invoke God’s promises of blessing in return.
For most of this shiur, we have used viduy ma’aser as a foil for mikra bikkurim and its connection to berit Avot. Mikra bikkurim expresses the broad view of history characteristic of berit Avot, in contrast to the narrow, detailed concerns of viduy ma’aser. However, from a convert’s exclusion, we have learned that God’s promises to the Avot, to some degree, are relevant to viduy ma’aser as well. Does this observation blur our categories and challenge the distinctions that we have developed?
I would suggest that viduy ma’aser does not undermine the dichotomy between berit Avot and berit Sinai, but instead highlights an additional point about berit Avot. While the substance and content of berit Avot is distinct from that of berit Sinai, an inherent aspect of God’s covenant with our forefathers is anticipation of an eventual comprehensive covenant that their children will enter and observe. Formation of Jewish destiny at the time of Avraham presumes a future giving of the Law to the Jewish people; similarly, the granting of the Land of Israel to the Avot as an inheritance for their children presumes our future obligation in and adherence to its particular laws.
Thus Tehillim 105 tells the basic storyline of berit Avot, but then culminates in Torah and mitzvot:
For He remembered His sacred word, His servant Avraham. He took His nation out [of Egypt] with delight, with joy His chosen ones. He gave them the lands of peoples, and the wealth of nations they inherited, so that they will observe His laws, and His teachings they will protect. (42-45)
It is not surprising that this text links our inheritance of the Land of Israel to allegiance to Torah and mitzvot, for the Land of Israel is certainly central to and even contingent upon berit Sinai—a recurring message of Sefer Devarim. What is striking is that Tehillim anchors this dimension of the Land of Israel in God’s remembering “His servant Avraham.” Clearly, the concept of a covenant that links the Land to mitzvot is not an invention of Sinai, even though the nature of its content is certainly foreign to the “values” orientation of berit Avot. Rather, it is a necessary component of God’s complete vision for the Land of Israel since His earliest revelations to Avraham.
Consequently, when linking flourishing in the Land of Israel to observance of the details of berit Sinai, Sefer Devarim also frequently invokes the Land’s connection to our Avot. An obvious example is the closing verse of a “classic” statement of berit Sinai, the second paragraph of Shema: “In order that your days and your children’s days multiply, on the soil that God swore to your forefathers to give to them, like the days of the heavens over the earth” (11:21). Berit Avot is not the immediate source of the “mitzvot” that God is asking us to observe there (11:13), but it is still the ultimate foundation for the Torah’s comprehensive vision for spiritual flourishing in the Land of Israel. Thus if the Jewish people violate berit Sinai in the Land of Israel, to a certain degree they are also rejecting the original purpose of berit Avot.
Viduy ma’aser further teaches us that along with the personal privilege of natural inheritance of the Land of Israel comes the primary responsibility for upholding this vision. By converting, a gentile may electively participate in berit Avot and thus offer bikkurim from land that he purchases, as well as fulfill the “mitzvot ha-teluyot ba-aretz” through it. However, inasmuch as his ownership of land results from his own initiative and not “by force of the oath,” the covenant surrounding the Land of Israel is not contingent upon his fidelity to God’s grand vision for our land that originated in His covenant with our forefathers. Rather, it is the Avot’s direct descendants who inherit this responsibility along with their fields and orchards, and so only they recite the associated viduy ma’aser that encapsulates this duty and its reward.
Berit Avot anticipates berit Sinai, and berit Sinai incorporates berit Avot. God’s bequeathal of the Land of Israel to our Avot foresees, in concept, the “mitzvot ha-teluyot ba-aretz,” and berit Sinai dedicates at least two of its 613 mitzvot—offering bikkurim and mikra bikkurim—to commemorating berit Avot in the Land of Israel. For all that we have tried to separate these two covenants from one another, they are intimately intertwined in a way that produces a holistic experience of Judaism that transcends its individual components. Thus we find ourselves, in various forms, responding to the legacy of the Avot and the duty of Sinai simultaneously, allegiant to both and enthralled by their combined majesty—and nowhere more than in the Land of Israel.
For Further Thought:
1. How are the criteria for mikra bikkurim different from the criteria for offering bikkurim? How should we explain the category of individuals who “bring but do not recite” (Bikkurim 1:1, 4)?
2. In this shiur, we differentiated between collective and private Jewish ownership in the Land of Israel. Do these different aspects of ownership correlate to different dimensions of the Land of Israel? Recall that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik and R. Ahron Soloveichik both identify collective Jewish possession of the Land as the basis for the “title” of the Land of Israel (category #2), which can never be abrogated (see mori ve-rabbi R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav, 81-82). Ongoing private Jewish ownership, on the other hand, may be essential for maintaining the full sanctity of the soil (category #5). See Rambam Terumot 1:10 and Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim Ha-Levi there, as well as R. Aharon Lichtenstein, “Kinyan Akum Be-Eretz Yisrael,” Minchat Aharon, 49-68. However, bikkurim likely requires private ownership as well. See Gittin 47a-b.
3. According to Rabbi Meir, Levites recite mikra bikkurim, but priests do not (Tosefta Bikkurim 1:2). However, neither recite viduy ma’aser (Ma’aser Sheini 5:14). Could the distinctions we discussed above help explain his position? Also see R. Aharon Lichtenstein, “Netilat Chelek Be-Eretz Yisrael al Yedei Shevet Levi,” Minchat Aviv, 91-106.
4. In the Torah, the mitzva of birkat ha-mazon (Grace after Meals) is intrinsically related to thanking God for the Land of Israel (Devarim 8:10). Two points deserve consideration in this regard:
· Berakhot 48b establishes that one must mention both berit mila and Torah study in the second blessing, as through them, commentaries explain, the Jewish people merit the Land (see Rashi and Meiri). Might these two mitzvot represent berit Avot and berit Sinai, respectively?
· Berakhot 20b wonders whether women may be exempt on a Biblical level from reciting birkat ha-mazon. The reason for this possible exclusion is not clear. Rashi explains that “the Land was not given to women for distribution.” Others question, then, why priests (according to Rabbi Meir) and converts would be obligated in birkat ha-mazon. The Rashba suggests that since the Land was given to men generally, male converts also must thank God for the Land.
Tosafot offer a different explanation for women’s possible exemption. Perhaps women do not have to recite birkat ha-mazon because they are not obligated in berit mila or Torah study. According to Tosafot, it seems, the obligation to recite birkat ha-mazon is contingent upon one’s shouldering responsibility for meriting the Land, which women do not.
According to each of these approaches, to which aspects of the Land of Israel does birkat ha-mazon relate? In terms of its themes and exemptions, is birkat ha-mazon more similar to mikra bikkurim or to viduy ma’aser?
5. We noted earlier that Rashi cites Vayikra 26 as the source for a “mini-covenant” that relates specifically to the Land of Israel and its mitzvot. However, the mitzva of the Land that is discussed there is the Sabbatical year (see 26:34-35); tithes, which are the focus of viduy ma’aser, do not appear. When I posed this question to my teacher, R. Menachem Leibtag, he noted that Devarim 14:22-15:1 links tithes to the Sabbatical cycle; thus the two are inseparable (also see Rashi Ketubot 25a). Are there any alternatives to Rashi’s explanation?
6. Throughout this shiur, we have treated tithes as a classic mitzva of Sinai. However, the Sages assert that the mitzva of tithing actually dates back to Yitzchak Avinu (see Rambam Hilkhot Melakhim 9:1). How should this influence our analysis?
Questions or Comments?
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 The independence of these two mitzvot from one another is highlighted by the Mishna’s list of those who “bring but do not recite” (Bikkurim 1:1, 4).
 The conventional division of the Torah into 54 parashiyot places bikkurim at the beginning of a new parasha (Ki Tavo), which further sets mikra bikkurim and viduy ma’aser apart as their own unit. In addition, references to mikra bikkurim as a “viduy” further reinforce the connection between the two mitzvot. Rashi (Yevamot 73a) interprets the mishna’s statement that “ma’aser and bikkurim [both] require… viduy” (Bikkurim 2:2) as referring to viduy ma’aser and mikra bikkurim (though other commentators, based on the Yerushalmi’s reading of that mishna, interpret the statement differently). Similarly, though the Rambam does not follow Rashi’s explanation of Bikkurim 2:2, he occasionally refers to mikra bikkurim as a “viduy” in Mishneh Torah (see Hilkhot Bikkurim 3:10, 4:1). Also see the Ran’s commentary on the Rif, Megilla 7a (in Alfasi).
 See Ma’aser Sheini 5:11-12.
 See R. Shimshon of Sens on Ma’aser Sheini 5:15, as well as mori ve-rabbi R. Aharon Lichtenstein, “Netilat Chelek Be-Eretz Yisrael al Yedei Shevet Levi,” Minchat Aviv, 91-106.
 Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s comment that mikra bikkurim is said “in a loud voice” and viduy ma’aser “in a soft voice” (Sota 32b) perhaps reflects the same point. The Rambam, however, does not codify this statement, as noted by the Minchat Chinukh (mitzva #606).
 Also see Tosafot Anshei Shem on Ma’aser Sheini 5:14.
See, for instance, Mishneh La-melekh, Hilkhot Bikkurim 4:3, Minchat Chinukh mitzva 606:[3 in Mekhon Yerushalayim ed.] and R. Moshe Soloveichik, “Be-din Ger Meivi Ve-korei,” 1-8 (also see Iggerot Ha-Grid, Hilkhot Bikkurim 4:2).
 Orphans under the age of twenty who entered the Land of Israel with Yehoshua neither received land themselves nor inherited land from their fathers (Bava Batra 118a).
 Also see Rashba Berakhot 20b.
 See R. Moshe Soloveichik, “Be-din Ger Meivi Ve-korei,” 4.
 Therefore, the relevance of viduy ma’aser is dependent upon the personality, not upon the actual parcel of land cultivated. As an heir to the Avot, a direct descendant may invoke God’s promise about the Land, even if the produce that he or she has tithed does not actually originate from inherited fields and orchards.
 Rashi on Bereishit 15:6 ascribes to Avraham the question, “Tell me, in what merit will [my progeny] persist in [the Land of Israel]?” In response, God points to the sacrifices—primarily mitzvot of Sinai. Regarding the Avot’s relationship with the mitzvot of Sinai generally, see Rashi and Ramban on Bereishit 26:5; also see shiur #5.
 See Radak and Metzudat David.
 See Ba’al Ha-turim on Devarim 26:15. Furthermore, this point is embedded in Jewish law: “If one did not mention Torah in [the blessing upon] the Land [in the Grace after Meals], we return him [to the beginning]. What is the reason? ‘He gave them the lands of peoples’—for what? ‘So that they will observe His laws, and His teachings they will protect’” (Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:6).
 Similarly, see 6:3 (and Ibn Ezra and Ramban there), 8:1, 11:9, 19:8-9 and 30:20.
 Also see Sifrei on Devarim 11:12, which links this verse to the aforementioned verses from Tehillim.
 Also see footnote #14 above.
 See Tosafot and Ramban Bava Batra 81a.
 Also see Ramban Bava Batra there.