Share a Prayer: Ahavah Rabbah

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.

Immediately preceding the recitation of the morning Shema is a beautiful and inspirational blessing beginning with the phrase “Ahavah Rabbah: deep is your love for us…” This is the second of the two mandated blessings that introduce the Shema and is technically know as Birkat Ha Torah: the blessing of the Torah. The notion of this Bracha is that the almighty chose the Jewish people from all other nations and gave us His Torah as a sign of His great love; this is juxtaposed with the beginning of the Shema which commands us to love God.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer in his outstanding commentary on our Siddur points out that not only does Ahavah Rabbah praise God for His “boundless understanding and mercy” it also thanks the Creator for giving us the capacity to understand the teachings of the Torah so that we can perform the mitzvoth (commandments). As I often have noted, it is through the wisdom and commandments contained in the Torah we can find a path that leads us closer to God.

The parallel blessing which introduces the Shema of the evening service begins with the words, “Ahavat Olam – eternal love.”  Rabbi Irwin Kula in his compelling Book Yearnings, points out that in the morning we ask for, Ahavah Rabbah, a great deal of love – it’s a new day and we are refreshed and ready to go. At night, however, after a long day, we ask for Ahavat Olam which Rabbi Kula translates as “unconditional love.” After all of the trials and stress of the day that has concluded, unconditional love is what we really need.

At the conclusion of Ahavat Olam, beginning with the phrase V’havieinu L’Shalom: “Bring us safely from the four corners of the earth…” it is customary to gather the Tzitzit (fringes) from the four corners of the Tallit (prayer shawl) and hold them in preparation for the Shema. This action has a practical purpose since the third section of the Shema which is to follow, (Bamidbar [Numbers] 15:37-41) commands us to wear Tzitzit-the fringes placed on the corners of the Tallit (prayer shawl) to remind us of the Mitzvot (commandments.)  It is customary to hold the Tzitzit during the Shema and kiss them as we say the word “Tzitzit”.  Also, by gathering together our Tzitzit we symbolize our hope for redemption; a time when people from all across the world will be free to gather together and worship in a State of Israel blessed with peace.

Ahavah Rabbah is a wonderful prayer and a most fitting introduction to the Shema – the mission statement of the Jewish People. Not only do we express appreciation for God’s boundless love for us, but we give thanks for the wisdom of Torah which draws us closer to God and we articulate our hope for a time when all can come together as one, in order to recite the Shema with a united voice in a world of Peace.

Click here for the Text in Hebrew and English.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at cantor@sinaihollywood.org.

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