Ahavat Olam and Ahava Rabba “on one foot”:
“Ahavat Olam” is a prayer said in the Arvit / Ma’ariv / Evening service, both on weekdays and Shabbat / festivals. “Ahava Rabba” is in the morning service. Both come after Barchu but before the Shema, and are the Revelation prayer (of the Creation, Revelation, Redemption arc), thanking G-d for revealing the Torah to us as an expression of love (“Ahava”). This difference was in place by the time of the Tosafot (Rashi’s grandchildren) in the 1100s. Sefardi Jews replace the words “Ahava Rabba” with “Ahavat Olam”, but then continue with the rest of the “Ahava Rabba” prayer that other Jews say — this is based on a different reading of Brachot 11b:8-9 (see also the Tosafot on this text). It has been suggested that the reason Ashkenazi Jews say "Ahava Rabba" in the morning is because in Lamentations 3:23 the words "morning" and "rabba" are both in the same verse.
אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמְּ֒ךָ אָהָֽבְתָּ תּוֹרָה וּמִצְוֹת חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים אוֹתָֽנוּ לִמַּֽדְתָּ:
[With] An everlasting love You loved the House of Israel, Your people. You taught us Torah and commandments, statutes and laws.
Context: This is the first part of the “Ahavat Olam” prayer. The phrase “An everlasting love” comes from Jeremiah 31:2-3, where Jeremiah said that G-d fell in love with the Jewish people when we were in the desert together after leaving Egypt. The phrase “Torah and commandments, statues and laws” is a quote from II Chronicles 19:10, where it is in the instructions that King Jehoshaphat gave the judges about how to do their job.
How does providing rules show love?
עַל כֵּן יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ בְּשָׁכְבֵֽנוּ וּבְקוּמֵֽנוּ נָשִֽׂיחַ בְּחֻקֶּֽיךָ וְנִשְׂמַח בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָתֶֽךָ וּבְמִצְוֹתֶֽיךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד:
Therefore, Adonai, our God, when we lie down and when we rise, we will discuss Your statutes, and rejoice in the words of Your Torah and in Your commandments forever.
Context: The next part of “Ahavat Olam”. The Spanish-Portuguese version has “v’na’aloz” after “v’nismach”. When it talks about “when we lie down and when we rise we will discuss your commandments”, this is an allusion to the V’Ahavta (Deut. 6:7) when it says to “speak of these words when you lie down and when you rise”. Fittingly, the V’Ahavta is juxtaposed to Ahavat Olam.
Which parts of the Torah make you rejoice?
כִּי הֵם חַיֵּֽינוּ וְאֹֽרֶךְ יָמֵֽינוּ וּבָהֶם נֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָֽיְלָה:
For they are our life and they lengthen our days, and on them we will meditate day and night.
Context: This is the next part of “Ahavat Olam”. The phrase “our life and they lengthen our days” is a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:20, the last verse in Parashat Nitzavim. In it the verse says that choosing life — loving G-d, following G-d’s commandments, and holding fast to G-d — will lead to having life and lengthening our days in the Land of Israel.
Additionally, the phrase “meditate day and night” is a paraphrase of Psalms 1:2. That verse says that in contrast to the counsel of the wicked, a person will be happy if they delight in G-d’s teaching and meditate on it day and night. The phrase is also an echo of Joshua 1:8, where G-d tells Joshua that reciting the Torah day and night, and then faithfully observing all that is written in it, will lead to success and prospering in his undertakings.
How might following what’s in the Torah lead to a living a longer life?
וְאַהֲבָתְ֒ךָ אַל תָּסִיר מִמֶּֽנּוּ לְעוֹלָמִים: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אוֹהֵב עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל:
[May] Your love never be removed from us. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who loves God’s people Israel.
Context: The last part of “Ahavat Olam”. This is the “Chatima”, the signature, of the paragraph, that makes it count as one of the 2 blessings before the Shema. The Spanish-Portuguese version has “lo tasur” instead of “al tasir”, and “et” before “amo”.
How have you felt G-d’s love in your life?
The Complete “Ahavat Olam”
Musical Versions of “Ahavat Olam”
Which of these are most appealing to you? Why?
Context: This is the most common tune for “Ahavat Olam”. It was written by Eric Mandell (1903-1988), a refugee from Nazi Germany who founded the Music Department at Gratz College. The video shows pictures of synagogues around the world.
Context: This is a version written by Gabriel Mann, and performed by the Platt Brothers. Ben Platt was the star of the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hanson”, but all three of them grew up performing at Camp Ramah Ojai. You can read more about them here: https://www.heyalma.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-brothers-platt/
Context: This is Debbie Friedman’s tune for “Ahavat Olam”, as done at Kol Ami in Los Angeles. Debbie wrote this in 1973 and it was on her 1976 album “Ani Ma-amin”.
Context: This is Craig Taubman’s tune for “Ahavat Olam”. It was released as part of his 1999 album “Friday Night Live”.
אַהֲבָה רַבָּה אֲהַבְתָּֽנוּ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ חֶמְלָה גְדוֹלָה וִיתֵרָה חָמַֽלְתָּ עָלֵֽינוּ:
[With] great love You have loved us, Lord, our God; [with] great and abundant compassion have You had compassion upon us.
Context: This is the first part of "Ahava Rabba".
When have you had compassion on somebody? When has someone had compassion on you?
אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ בַּעֲבוּר אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ שֶׁבָּטְ֒חוּ בְךָ וַתְּ֒לַמְּ֒דֵם חֻקֵּי חַיִּים כֵּן תְּחָנֵּֽנוּ וּתְלַמְּ֒דֵֽנוּ:
Our Parent, our Sovereign — for the sake of our ancestors who trusted in You, and whom You taught laws of life, so [too] be gracious to us and teach us.
Context: The next part of "Ahava Rabba".
Have you ever experienced "Z'chut avot", something positive happening to you because of the merit of your ancestor?
אָבִֽינוּ הָאָב הָרַחֲמָן הַמְ֒רַחֵם רַחֵם עָלֵֽינוּ וְתֵן בְּלִבֵּֽנוּ לְהָבִין וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל לִשְׁמֹֽעַ לִלְמֹד וּלְ֒לַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵי תַלְמוּד תּוֹרָתֶֽךָ בְּאַהֲבָה:
Our Parent, merciful Parent, Who acts with compassion, have compassion on us and put into our hearts [comprehension] to understand and to discern, to listen, to learn and to teach, to keep, to practice, and to fulfill all the words of the teachings in Your Torah with love.
Context: This is the next part of "Ahava Rabba". The phrase "lilmid ul'lameid lishmor v'la'asot" is a quote from Pirkei Avot 4:5, which says that those who want to learn in order to teach get to do that, but those who study in order to practice get to learn and to teach, to keep and to practice.
It also gets at a discussion by the rabbis about whether study or action is more important, with the final conclusion being that study is more important because study leads to action (Kiddushin 40b:8). It also alludes to Pirkei Avot 4:5, which says that those
When is a time that you have understood, discerned, listened, learned, taught, kept, practiced, and/or fulfilled something in the Torah?
וְהָאֵר עֵינֵֽינוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶֽךָ וְדַבֵּק לִבֵּֽנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתֶֽיךָ וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵֽנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת־שְׁמֶֽךָ:
And enlighten our eyes with Your Torah, and attach our hearts to Your mitzvot, and unify our hearts to love and revere Your Name;
Context: This is the next part of "Ahava Rabba". It is often sung to a tune by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
“Torah" can mean just the first 5 books of the Bible, or the entire Bible, or all of Jewish teaching (Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and anything that somebody might teach in the future - Leviticus Rabba 22:1). Thus, the custom of "studying Torah" at the Tikkun Leil Shavuot on the first night of Shavuot can be expansively interpreted to mean studying anything Jewish.
Is there a particular mitzvah that you are attached to?
וְלֹא נֵבוֹשׁ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד כִּי בְשֵׁם קָדְשְׁ֒ךָ הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא בָּטָֽחְנוּ נָגִֽילָה וְנִשְׂמְ֒חָה בִּישׁוּעָתֶֽךָ:
and may we never be embarrassed, for in Your holy Name— [which is] great and awe-inspiring— have we trusted; may we delight and rejoice in Your deliverance.
Context: The next part of "Ahava Rabba".
The rabbis interpreted the Sixth Commandment of "Do not murder" as also meaning "Don't embarrass". What's the connection?
וַהֲבִיאֵֽנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָֽרֶץ וְתוֹלִיכֵֽנוּ קוֹמְ֒מִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵֽנוּ:
Bring us in peace [wholeness] from the four corners of the earth; and lead us upright to our land.
Context: This is the next part of the prayer "Ahava Rabba". From here until the beginning of the blessing the prayer is either done with nusach or sung to the tune of "Hatikvah". Today, one can find Jews in Israel who originally were from Russia, the United States, Australia, and Argentina, so perhaps these words have come true.
At this point in the prayer there is a custom from the late Middle Ages for those who are wearing a tallis to gather the four tzitzit together, symbolizing a unity with G-d as well as a unity among the Jewish people (these tzitzit get kissed on the word "tzitzit" in the Vayomer paragraph of the Shema). What can you do to help make a more united and/or inclusive Jewish people?
כִּי אֵל פּוֹעֵל יְשׁוּעוֹת אָֽתָּה וּבָֽנוּ בָחַֽרְתָּ מִכָּל־עַם וְלָשׁוֹן. וְקֵרַבְתָּֽנוּ לְשִׁמְךָ הַגָּדוֹל סֶֽלָה בֶּאֱמֶת לְהוֹדוֹת לְךָ וּלְיַחֶדְךָ בְּאַהֲבָה:
Because, You are the Almighty, Who performs acts of deliverance, and You have chosen us from among all peoples and languages, and You have brought us close to Your great Name in truth; to thank You and unify You with love.
Context: This is the next part of "Ahava Rabba". This is the part of the prayer that is the reason the Talmud says that if you forget to say the Torah Blessings at the beginning of Shacharit, this makes up for that (Brachot 11b:10).
The idea of being chosen should not be thought of as “we’re better than everybody else”. After all, in the Haftarah for Acharei Mot, Amos quotes G-d as saying “To me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians — declares the Lord; true, I brought Israel up from the land of Egypt, but also the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir” (Amos 9:7). G-d basically is saying that the Israelites were chosen for a specific mission, but everybody has their own relationship with G-d. If the mission of the Israelites was to spread G-d’s message then they have been remarkably successful, because half of the world today subscribes to a religion based in part on the Jewish Bible (Judaism, Christianity, or Islam).
Regardless of whether you think of G-d as an invisible being, a force for good, or something else, when do you feel close to G-d?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה הַבּוֹחֵר בְּעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּאַהֲבָה:
Blessed are You, Lord, Who chooses the people Israel with love.
Context: This is the "Chatima", or blessing that forms a "signature" for this prayer. This is the 6th time that we talk about "love" in this prayer.
Right after we say this line, we go into the Shema and then the V'Ahavta. In the V'Ahavta we are told that we should show our love for G-d. Is it easier to love G-d knowing that first G-d loves us?
The Complete "Ahava Rabba"
Context: This is the entire "Ahava Rabba" prayer, as it is found in Ashkenazi siddurim.
Context: This is the English of the Spanish-Portuguese version of “Ahava Rabba”. It starts with “Ahavat Olam” instead of “Ahava Rabba”, but otherwise the Hebrew is largely but not entirely the same as the Ashkenazi version.
Musical Versions of “Ahava Rabba”
Which of these are most appealing to you? Why?
Context: This is the most common tune for "Ahava Rabba", though the video stops before going into "Hatikvah" for the last part.
Context: This is the most common tune for "V'ha-eir Libeinu", which is the middle part of "Ahava Rabba". It was written by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in the mid-20th century. Debbie Friedman also has her own tune on her "Live at the Dell" album (released 1990), and you can hear a taste of it here: https://music.apple.com/lk/song/41446519.
Context: This is Natalie Young's version of "V'ha-eir eineinu", released in 2011.
Context: This is Elana Arien's take on "Ahava Rabba", from the 21st century.
Context: This is from Cantor Azi Schwartz (of Park Avenue Synagogue), singing Cantor Ben Ellerin's version.
Context: This is Anna Jacob's version of "Ahava Rabba", sung by Cantor Rachel Brook (formerly of Park Avenue Synagogue in NYC where this was recorded, now at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago).
Context: This is a recording of "Ahava Rabba" as done by the Lemba group of Zimbabwe.
With appreciation to: Esther Azar, David M. Rosenberg, Eric Leiderman, Lev Israel, Rabbi David Winship, Jeremy Borovitz, Elon Weintraub,
Appendix: "Ahavat Olam" and "Ahava Rabba" in the Sources
World of the Sages: Abundant and everlasting love (JPost. 12/5/2005)
The version of the talmudic passage that was before many codifiers presented an earlier tradition, supporting the opinion of the Rabbis that ahavat olam should be said. Consequently, these halachists ruled that ahavat olam should be said. This is the accepted ruling in the Sephardi rite and the practice in hassidic communities (Rif, 11th century, Morocco, and others). As in the version of the talmudic discussion that we have before us, others saw the earlier tradition as supporting the view of Samuel, and hence they preferred the alternative formulation - ahava rabba (quoted in Rashba).