ואחר כך ברכה שניה

Then follows the second blessing, which declares G‑d’s great love of the Jewish people.

Notwithstanding the lofty service and the subjugation of all the heavenly angels, G‑d saw fit to set them all aside, as it were, choosing instead to delight in the service of His people below. This blessing begins:

אהבת עולם אהבתנו ה׳ אלקינו, כלומר, שהניח כל צבא מעלה הקדושים

“L‑rd our G‑d, You have loved us with everlasting love.” That is to say, that He set aside all the supernal, holy hosts — the heavenly angels, for they are not the ultimate intent of creation,

והשרה שכינתו עלינו, להיות נקרא אלקינו, כמו: אלקי אברהם כו׳, כנ״ל

and caused His Shechinah to dwell upon us, the Jewish people, so that He be called “our G‑d” in the same sense that He is called1 “the G‑d of Abraham,...” as explained earlier.2

Abraham was completely nullified to G‑d. To the same degree that G‑d is called “the G‑d of Abraham,” He is also called “our G‑d.” This is accomplished, as explained earlier, through the performance of Torah and mitzvot.

והיינו כי אהבה דוחקת את הבשר

This is because “love impels the flesh.”

Love effects concealment and contraction. So, too, did G‑d’s love for His people bring about a certain contraction, in that He chose the service of Jewish souls in the state in which they are found here below — enclothed in physical bodies, and in the finite world.

ולכן נקראת אהבת עולם, שהיא בחינת צמצום אורו הגדול הבלתי תכלית, להתלבש בבחינת גבול הנקרא עולם

Therefore this love on G‑d’s part is called ahavat olam, literally, “a love of the world,” for it refers to the “contraction” of His great and infinite light, by assuming the garb of finitude, which is called olam (“world”) — the concept of “world” signifying the finitude of space and time. G‑d brought about this “contraction”:

בעבור אהבת עמו ישראל, כדי לקרבם אליו, ליכלל ביחודו ואחדותו יתברך

for the sake of His love for His people Israel, in order to bring them near to Him, that they might be absorbed into His blessed Unity and Oneness through Torah and mitzvot.

וזהו שאומרים: חמלה גדולה ויתירה

This is also the meaning of what we say a little later on in the same blessing of Ahavat Olam, and in connection thereto: “Exceedingly abounding compassion,” i.e., more than You have bestowed upon others, “have You bestowed upon us,”

פירוש: יתירה על קרבת אלקים שבכל צבא מעלה

namely, [a compassion] exceeding the nearness of G‑d toward all the hosts above.

G‑d’s nearness to them comes out of His sense of compassion for them. This can in no way compare to the compassion G‑d feels for us, for which reason He draws us closer to Him. The same blessing of Ahavat Olam then goes on to say:

ובנו בחרת מכל עם ולשון, הוא הגוף החומרי הנדמה בחומריותו לגופי אומות העולם

“And You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues”: this refers to the material body which, in its corporeal aspects, is similar to the bodies of the gentiles of the world.

True freedom of choice can only come about when one has two completely equal choices. When two things, however, are unequal, one does not freely choose one over the other — the qualities found in one and lacking in the other compel the choice.

It is therefore impossible to say that “You have chosen us” refers to Jewish souls, for there can be no comparison between Jewish and non-Jewish souls, inasmuch as a Jew’s soul3 “is truly part of G‑d Above.” Rather, “You have chosen us” refers to the Jew’s material body, which in its corporeality is similar to the bodies of non-Jews.

G‑d freely chose Jewish bodies to be the proper receptacle for Jewish souls, desiring that through the deeds performed by the body (for all physical mitzvot demand bodily participation) the Jew should become united with Him. This the Alter Rebbe now goes on to explain, first continuing to quote from Ahavat Olam:

וקרבתנו וכו׳ להודות וכו׳, ופירוש הודאה יתבאר במקום אחר, וליחדך כו׳, ליכלל ביחודו יתברך כנ״ל

“And you have brought us near...to give thanks...” (the interpretation of “thanks” will be given elsewhere, where the quality of abnegation found in thanksgiving will be explained), “...and proclaim your Oneness...,” which means to be absorbed in His blessed Unity, as has been explained above.

The Alter Rebbe will soon conclude that meditating on the concepts appearing in the blessings of the Shema leads a Jew to the proper realization of the Shema — attaining an ardent love for G‑d.