AHABAH RABBAH (, "Great Love") and AHABAT 'OLAM (, "Everlasting Love"):
By: Kaufmann Kohler
The initial words, and hence the names, of the two benedictions that precede the Shema'; the former used in the morning service of the German ritual, the latter in the evening service of both rituals and in the morning service of the Sephardic. The difference in the formulas goes back to the time when Rab and Samuel arranged (not composed, as is often erroneously stated) the prayers for the Babylonian schools; for we find Samuel insisting on that of Ahabah Rabbah, against the general tannaitic tradition, which favored the Ahabat 'Olam formula, claiming that the Ahabah Rabbah was the prayer recited by the priests in the Temple at the morning service after the leader's call, , and before the decalogue and the Shema' (Ber. 11b, Mid. v. 1). According to Tos. Ber. 11b, Ahabah Rabbah was the formula adopted for the morning service, Ahabat 'Olam for the evening. Thus it is also found in the Siddur of Amram Gaon; but the Maḥzor Vitry, following the Sephardic ritual and the Geonim, has Ahabat 'Olam also for the morning. The phraseology of the latter seemed preferable, it being more in accord with the Biblical verse (Jer. xxxi. 3), as pointed out in Ber. 11b; still, to distinguish the evening from the morning prayer, the German ritual adhered to Ahabah Rabbah. The benediction itself, like Yoẓer Or, the one that precedes it, is very old and probably dates from the time of the institution of the Shema' by the founders of the Synagogue (the men of the Great Synagogue), Yoẓer Or being the thanksgiving for the light of the day, Ahabah Rabbah the thanksgiving for the special love of God for Israel, manifested in the light of Revelation (Torah). Asher of Lunel, quoted by "Kol Bo," viii., and by Abudraham, says: "The sun gives light only in the daytime, the Torah by day and by night; as Ps. xix. praises God first for the sun and then for the Torah which enlightens the mind, so should we also give praise in these two benedictions." Compare Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa" (On a Contemplative Life), ed. Mangey, ii. 475:
"They [the Therapeutæ] are accustomed to pray twice every day: at morning, when the sun rises, they pray to God for the day of true happiness, because their minds are filled with the light of heaven; and at sunset they pray that their soul, being altogether lightened and relieved of the burden of the senses and outward things, be all the more able to trace out truth in its own resort and council-chamber."
There is a strain of profound love and zeal for God and the Law echoed in the benediction, which could only emanate from souls the very keynote of whose life is love and piety, such as was that of the ancient Ḥasidim, the Essenes (Rapoport, "Bikkure ha-'Ittim," x., on Kalir, 119). But, as is the case with all the prayers, individuals and generations occasionally added a word or a sentence, and the sixty-two words which Zunz ("G. V." p. 369) claims for the original Ahabah Rabbah were increased to one hundred and two in the German, one hundred and forty-one in the Sephardic Siddur, and one hundred and forty-two in the Maḥzor Vitry. A Genizah fragment from Cairo (Egypt), reproduced here, contains the Ahabah Rabbah version, which has some German and some Sephardic features, and aggregates one hundred and seventeen words. The following is a translation of the main benediction, the later interpolations being omitted:
Morning Benediction: "With abounding [Sephardic ritual: "with everlasting"] love, hast Thou loved us, O Lord our God [Jer. xxxi. 3]. With great and exceeding compassion hast Thou taken compassion on us [compare Isa. lxiii. 9]. Our Father, our King, for the sake of our fathers who trusted in Thee and whom Thou taughtest the statutes of life, be gracious unto us, and be Thou also our teacher. Enlighten our eyes in Thy law, and make our hearts cleave to Thy commandments; render our hearts one that we may love and fear Thy name, and not be ashamed. For in Thy holy name we trust; we rejoice and exult in Thy salvation. For Thou art the God who worketh salvation, and Thou hast chosen us from all peoples and tongues and brought us nigh unto Thy great name (Selah) in truth, that we give praise unto Thee and proclaim Thy unity in love. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who hast chosen Thy people Israel in love" [compare the high priest's benediction, Yoma, vii. 1, Rashi and Asheri]. Evening Benediction[probably of later origin, as shown by the difference in style, and lack of rhythm]: "With everlasting love hast Thou loved the house of Israel Thy people; the Law and the Commandments, the statutes and ordinances hast Thou taught us. Therefore, O Lord our God, when we lie down and when we rise up, we will meditate on Thy statutes and rejoice in the words of Thy law and in Thy commandments forever. For they are our life and the length of our days; and on them we shall meditate day and night. Let not, therefore, Thy love ever fail us. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who lovest Thy people Israel."
- Herzfeld, Gesch. d. Volkes Israel, ii. 195;
- Baer, Siddur, pp. 80, 164, Roedelheim, 1868;
- Landshuth, Hegyon Leb, p. 46.