Birkot HaTorah are comprised of three parts. In the first part, we bless Hashem who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to occupy ourselves with the study of Torah. In the second, we request that the Torah, which Hashem taught His nation Israel, be pleasant to us, that we merit learning it with desire, and that we and our offspring have the privilege of understanding the depth of its content.
In the third part, we bless and thank Hashem for choosing us from among all the nations and giving us His Torah. The Chachamim say (Berachot 11b) that this is the prime berachah of Birkot HaTorah, since it mentions the unique virtue of the nation of Israel, that Hashem “chose us from among all the nations” and, because of this Divine selection, consequently “gave us His Torah.” This is the nature of Israel’s soul, that it is attached and devoted to Hashem and His Torah, and therefore only the nation of Israel can receive the Torah and with it illuminate the world. Among the nations of the world, there may be righteous and devout gentiles, but this is a personal piety of individual people who lack the ability to repair the entire world. As seen from our long history, only the nation of Israel can serve Hashem within a national framework and strive to uplift and rectify the world in the path of truth and kindness.
Based on this, it is clear why the Ahavat Olamberachah (“Ahavah Rabbah,” according to Nusach Ashkenaz), which we say before the recital of Shema, can replace Birkot HaTorah. The main part of this prayer refers to Hashem’s love for Israel and its conclusion is, “Who chooses His people Israel with love.” Additionally, the subject of Torah is mentioned at length, for Israel and the Torah are inseparable.
In practice, one who is not certain as to whether he recited Birkot HaTorah can have kavanah to fulfill his obligation of Birkot HaTorah when reciting Ahavat Olam. Likewise, one who forgets to recite Birkot HaTorah before praying and arrives at Ahavat Olam should have in mind to fulfill his obligation of Birkot HaTorah when saying it, and after the prayer service remember to learn words of Torah as one does after Birkot HaTorah (Shulchan Aruch 47:7).
. The Rishonim and Acharonim disagree regarding how many berachot are included in Birkot HaTorah. According to Rabbeinu Tam, Rosh, and others, there are two berachot, and the second part is a continuation of the first. Therefore, one must begin “V’Ha’arev” with a connecting vav (vav hachibur) and Amen is not recited upon the conclusion of the first part. According to the Rambam and others, there are three berachot; hence the word “Ha’arev” is recited (without a vav) and Amen is to be answered after the first part. The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 47:6, writes that it is preferable to start “V’Ha’arev” with a vav in order to fulfill the obligation according to all opinions. The Mishnah Berurah 47:12 writes that it is the opinion of most Acharonim not to answer Amen at the end of the first part. Therefore, it is best to say it quietly in order to avoid uncertainty. Nonetheless, the Ben Ish Chai and Kaf HaChaim 47:10 and 47:13 write that one should answer Amen after it, even though we say “V’Ha’arev” with a vav, for that is what Rav Chaim Vital testified in the name of the Ari.
. The source for this is in Berachot 11b where it mentions that the berachah is called “Ahavah Rabbah” according to Nusach Ashkenaz and “Ahavat Olam” according to Nusach Sephard (following the opinion of rabbanan there). Concerning one who forgets to recite Birkot HaTorah and arrives at Ahavat Olam, the Mishnah Berurah 52:9 writes that he should have in mind to fulfill his obligation when reciting Ahavat Olam. Additionally, see Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “Poteret,” where it seems from Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah that one must have kavanah explicitly in this berachah in order to fulfill his obligation. However, according to the Rosh, even without kavanah, one fulfills his obligation b’dieved by saying it, and that is what is inferred from the Acharonim. They further debate whether one must learn Torah immediately afterwards. The Yerushalmi writes that one is required to learn and that is the opinion of the majority of Rishonim. However, some say (Tosafot Berachot 11a) that the Bavli disagrees, and therefore, according to them it is unnecessary to learn immediately after its recital. Further, they are uncertain as to whether Shema can be considered learning. In order to avoid uncertainty, one must learn something immediately after praying. (According to most poskim, the recital of Shema is not considered learning; see Mishnah Berurah 17 and Bei’ur Halachah in the name of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.) However, even if a person did not learn, he fulfilled his obligation b’dieved (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 6; Kaf HaChaim 17). Additionally, we do learn at the end of the prayer service, for the recital of U’va L’Tzion was instituted so that every Jew would learn verses from the books of the prophets (Nevi’im) every day, and for that purpose the words were translated, as explained further in this book 23:2. Similarly, we say Pitum HaKetoret and Tanna D’vei Eliyahu for the sake of learning Chazal’s words, as is clarified further in this book 23:5.