Ahava rabbah (Hebrew: אהבה רבה, [with an] abundant love, also Ahavah raba and other variant English spellings) is a prayer and blessing that is recited by followers of Ashkenazi Judaism during Shacharit (the morning religious services of Judaism) immediately prior to the Shema, the "Hear O Israel..." prayer. Followers of Sephardi Judaism begin this prayer with the words "Ahavat Olam" instead of Ahava rabbah; which is not to be confused with the shorter blessing of Ahavat Olam recited by both Sefardim and Ashkenazim during Maariv (with slight differences in their form).
This prayer is an expression of thanks for the love God has given the people. It thanks God for the gift of the Torah, which provides life, and for making the Jewish people the chosen nation.
Ahava rabbah is recited during Shacharit, and Ahavat Olam during Maariv as a compromise. The Talmud provides differing views on which one should be recited. Ahava Rabbah, being the longer of the two, is therefore recited in the morning, and Ahavat Olam in the evening.
Ahava rabbah is recited immediately before the Shema because its recital brings on the obligation to immediately learn, or at the very least, recite verses from the Torah. Since the Shema is composed of verses from the Torah, its recital fulfills that obligation.
The recitation of Ahava Rabbah fulfills the mitzvah of saying a blessing before Torah study. Normally, verses from the Torah are recited during Birkat HaShachar. But if one forgets to recite these verses then, the obligation is met through the recitation of Ahava Rabbah. However, the recitation of the Shema does not meet this requirement, even though it is composed of verses from the Torah.
It is during Ahava rabbah in which the four corners of the tzitzit are gathered, which occurs at the words "Bring us peace at the four corners of the earth." They are held throughout the Shema and kissed four times during the third paragraph of the Shema and once during Vayatziv (the paragraph following the Shema) and then released. The gathering of the tzitzit on these words is symbolic of the gathering of the Jewish people
The prayer contains multiple requests to God. One of them is to be enlightened with the Torah. Another is for God to protect us from shame; it is stated that those who cleave to a life of mitzvot will not be shamed. Another is that the Jewish people be gathered from the four corners of the world and returned to Israel.
- My People's Prayer Book: Welcoming the night: Minchah and Ma'ariv By Lawrence A. Hoffman, Marc Brettler, page 63
- Higher and higher : making Jewish prayer part of us By Steven Brown, page 102
- The JPS guide to Jewish traditions By Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Publication Society, pages 419-20
- From ideology to liturgy: Reconstructionist worship and American liberal Judaism By Eric Caplan, page 92
- From ideology to liturgy: Reconstructionist worship and American liberal Judaism By Eric Caplan, page 363
- The JPS guide to Jewish traditions By Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Publication Society, pages 412-13
- With all your heart: the Shema in Jewish worship, practice and life By Meir Levin, ISBN 1-56871-215-4, page 195
- Meoros hadaf hayomi, Volume 1 By Bet ha-midrash di-Ḥaside Sokhaṭshov (Bene Beraḳ, Israel), page 33-35
- The JPS guide to Jewish traditions By Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Publication Society, page 378.
- Higher and higher : making Jewish prayer part of us By Steven Brown, page 103
- Teaching Jewish Virtues: Sacred Sources and Arts Activities By Susan Freeman, page 23-25
- From ideology to liturgy: Reconstructionist worship and American liberal Judaism By Eric Caplan, page 101