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4 Sivan 5766 - May 31, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Who Chooses His People, Israel, With Love

An explanation of the blessing Ahavoh Rabboh, from a talk given by HaRav Moshe Aharon Braverman

Part I

The festival of Shavuos, commemorating the Giving of the Torah, is not only a designation of an event that took place in the past. It is relevant and significant in the present of every single generation. Year in and year out, this historical the Giving of the Torah to the Jewish people renews itself in this season with a new meaning for each and every Jew, according to his level.

In his work Derech Hashem, the Ramchal explains as follows: With every self-improvement which we effect in this season of the yearly cycle, the great luminescence which shone at that occasion-of-all-occasions returns to shine down upon us, to renew and replenish those who strive to receive it.

The Chossid Yaavetz notes in the sixth chapter of Pirkei Ovos: "Undoubtedly, we become more receptive to absorb everything regarding avodas Hashem during this time, more than at any other time. For the impression and impact it made upon our souls then [at the original Mattan Torah] is resparked and reignited at this present time."

In order to be worthy of receiving the special spiritual aura that is unique to this time-season, a person must prepare himself to become an appropriate vessel worthy of that light and of the sanctity of the point in time of Mattan Torah. For even at the very occasion of ma'amad Har Sinai, Moshe Rabbenu was told, "Go to the people and you shall sanctify them today and tomorrow . . . that they be ready for the third day." It is understood that for all generations, as well, it is necessary to prepare oneself for the special sanctity of this holy day.

Preparation to Realize the Value

The beginning of the preparation is a realization of the great worth and advantage of Torah. Only one who appreciates the value of something can be aroused to desire to acquire that thing. This desire and aspiration prepare and temper a person to become a vessel capable of holding what he so desires. Furthermore, it is explained in Chazal and brought in Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvoh 3:43) explaining the verse in Doniel (2:51), "He grants wisdom to the wise." Chazal interpreted: "This is because the wise ones honor the Torah and delve in it in holiness. Were wisdom granted to fools, they would converse in Torah in dirty places."

In order for a person to be worthy of Torah, he must know the value of and the reverence due to Torah. Without this, it is impossible for one to absorb Torah.

It is only fitting, then, that in the days preceding the calendar-time of Shavuos, and on Shavuos itself, one delve deeper and broaden one's thoughts about the great treasure of the Torah, of its value, worth and preciousness, and to contemplate the advantage of its scholars who immerse themselves in it, so that we increase our own aspiration and yearning to merit Torah and to crown ourselves with its glory, so that we thereby become more capable of receiving and absorbing that gift of Torah at the time-season of the Giving of the Torah.

The Blessings of the Torah

Chazal encapsulated all of those advantages in one single place, and that is in the text of the Ahavoh Rabboh and Ahavas Olom prayers and blessings preceding Krias Shema. These blessings also serve as the blessings over the Torah (technical birchos haTorah), as explained in Brochos 11b, which is established as halochoh in the Shulchan Oruch (47:7). The Avudrohm writes: "And you will find that this prayer includes a great many things, for Hashem loves us more than any other nation and gave us the Torah. It tells us to believe in His uniqueness; that He is Master of all and so on."

It has been the custom throughout the Jewish world in general, and in the halls of Torah in particular, to evoke great arousal in the shacharis service of Shavuos, and especially in Ahavoh Rabboh, to fervently beseech that we be granted the privilege of receiving the Torah and absorbing it in our hearts, that it illuminate our eyes, and that our hearts be unified and focused with love and fear for Him.

It is obvious that we must attempt to understand this prayer in greater depth in order to arouse ourselves and to implant within us the true and great value of the Torah and its scholars. Furthermore, we pray that we merit that our prayers be an outpouring of our hearts before the Examiner of Hearts from a true understanding of the meaning and significance of the words which we utter — that our hearts be attuned to actually correspond with the meanings intended to be uttered by our lips before the A-mighty.

To this purpose, we bring some principles established by our ancient sages on how to understand this blessing, in its general context, meaning and kavonoh, and in what has been specifically mentioned and emphasized regarding the great advantage and supremacy of Torah.

Love Covers Up Many a Fault

The underlying principle of this prayer is that the Torah was given to us wholly, entirely through `great love,' as is established in its beginning and as is established in its closing blessing: "Who chooses His people, Israel, through love." It was with this measure of love that Torah was given to our ancestors and is thus granted to each generation, in the past, present, and even in the future.

The significance of this mode of giving with love is to make it possible to give of it even beyond what the receiver would merit on his own. It is written in Mishlei 10:12 that, "Love covers up all faults." The flow of Hashem's love is not impeded by the sins of the receiver at that moment because of the fact that the Torah has in its power, through its light, the ability to restore sinners to good.

Our hope and expectation to merit Torah relies upon that "great love which You bore for us," which is a timeless love, eternal and constant. In this prayer we come to pour our hearts before the Giver of the Torah, on this of all days when it was revealed to all that Hashem truly did and does "choose His people Israel through love."

This is the general content of this prayer but it also mentions and repeats other specific aspects related to Torah, which we hope to explain as succinctly but comprehensively as possible, hoping to provide wisdom to the wise so that he can grow the wiser. We hope in this to prepare ourselves for the holy event in time of Mattan Torah which is fast approaching.


"You have loved us a great love." The Gaon relates this phrase to the giving of the Torah, when Hashem revealed Himself to us at Mt. Sinai in a cloud of glory.

The Gaon says that "Ahavoh rabboh," a great love, indicates a desire on the part of Hashem to pour forth limitless goodness and bounty, the extent of which we have no inkling. We cannot conceive how great was the eternal goodness which our people benefited through the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Furthermore, we find in Tomer Devorah, vol. II an explanation of the word rabboh as signifying prominence as opposed to quantity. According to this we understand Hashem's love for us as elevating us and making us important.

Similarly, Rashi explains the words in Shemos 20:17, "In order to test you" — to make you more eminent and significant in this world. Hashem seeks to raise us to higher levels of importance. It was the revelation at Sinai which elevated us and made us outstanding. This is the meaning of the `great' love stated in the blessing.

We now come to the word, "Over us" — that is, Hashem felt a great compassion towards us, over us. We find this usage in Yeshayohu 63:9, "In His love and compassion, He redeemed them, and He took them and elevated them for all time." Avudrahm explains that Hashem took us unto Himself, implanted in us a feeling of belonging to Him, and thus He uplifted the Jews on high forevermore, through His great love and compassion.

"A great and exceeding compassion . . . " Hashem's mercy over us was beyond nature; it was a supernatural love, beyond what they deserved at their particular spiritual level, says the Alter of Kelm (Choshen Mishpat II, Essay 60).

The Gaon explains that this refers to the giving of the second set of Luchos. Hashem had pity on us and gave the Jews in the desert a second chance, even though they had sinned with the eigel. In fact, Hashem even showered us with more love than before, in commanding us to build the Mishkon where He would reside within our very midst. This would not have been had they not sinned and the first Tablets not been shattered.

We come to the words, "Ovinu Malkeinu." These two titles also relate to the giving of the Torah. Our Father — for the actual giving of the Torah, as is stated in Ovos 3:18, "Beloved are Israel who are called the children of Hashem . . . Who gave them a delightful vessel . . . as it is written, `For I have given you goodly counsel; do not forsake My Torah.' " The Torah was given to the Jews because they are sons unto Hashem and He is their Father.

"Our King" refers to the actual performance of the mitzvos, our worship of Hashem according to the commandments given at Sinai, as is written, "You shall worship Elokim on this mountain." Similarly, "Restore us, our Father, to Your Torah, and draw us near, our King, to our worship of You."

"For the sake of our ancestors who trusted in You." When we left Egypt in order to receive the Torah, all we had going for us was our firm trust and faith in Hashem, as the Gaon explains in Shir Hashirim and in Mishlei 22:19: "The prime reason for the giving of the Torah was so that the Jews place their faith in Hashem, as we find in Tehillim, `And they placed their faith in Elokim.' Another reason was so that they tell the forthcoming generations . . . `So that [unto] the last generation, they know . . . The ultimate value is a perfect trust in Hashem for this encompasses all of the mitzvos (Ramban, Bo)."

At the Giving of the Torah itself, their great trust in Hashem was revealed when they declared, "Na'aseh venishma." Similarly when they encamped by Sinai, "As one person, with one heart," as Rashi denotes (explaining the singular form). The Gaon explains that peace and unity denote and exemplify trust in Hashem.

"And You taught them codes of life." Not commandments and prohibitions to guard in the process of living, but laws that are life, themselves, that create in us a feeling of reality, of self preservation, promising eternal life to us and the coming generations.

"Thus may You be gracious to us and teach us." Your attribute and measure of grace and love goes beyond what one deserves. And so we ask that You teach us these lifegiving laws.

"Our Father, Merciful Father, Who shows mercy . . . " The Torah was given to us because You are our Father and we are Your sons. And even if we lack the proper respect towards You as a father, and You insist that "If I am a Father, where is My honor?" — still we turn to You, Hashem, because You are ever merciful towards us. It is in Your power to evoke Your own compassion and there is no one to limit it, as it were. This is why we say `Who shows mercy," who is a Rachmono — this is Your attribute and this is how You have related towards us in reality, throughout the generations.

End of Part I

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