The fourth perek of Massekhet Berakhot dealt primarily with clarifying the framework for prayer, i.e., establishing the times of the fixed prayers and defining the circumstances in which an individual is exempt from prayer. The primary focus of the fifth perek, which begins on today’s daf is the content of the prayer, the details within this framework. While the previous chapter discussed the individual’s obligation to engage in the act of prayer, this chapter focuses on elucidating the spiritual demands, namely, the requisite and desired approach to prayer. In particular, the chapter deals with how one approaches prayer, what elements are required, permitted, or prohibited to introduce into the prayer formula, and what prayer is capable of accomplishing. Despite the legalistic manner in which the Gemara deals with issues, the halakhah is very closely tied to the philosophical questions involved.
There are various methods of preparation for prayer, such as adopting an approach of gravity, studying Torah, or engaging in performance of a mitzvah and experiencing the joy associated with that performance. More than an expression of difference of opinion, these constitute a variety of complementary approaches to different aspects of prayer: Petition and submission, the joy of thanksgiving and the gravity of contemplation.
The many aggadic passages in this chapter shed light on these different aspects of prayer. Even the additions to the daily prayers hold significance. Prayer is a specific framework that expresses particular approaches to supplication and perspectives on faith. A person may not introduce elements to prayer indiscriminately. This was especially significant at a time when there were various deviant sects very close to traditional Judaism, who secretly sought to introduce their deviant ideas into the accepted prayer formula. On the other hand, there are specific elements that one must emphasize and include in his requests. It was vital to determine the most significant, general needs that may and even must be incorporated into the various blessings, such as the request for rain, emphasis of the sanctity of the Festivals, and recitation of havdalah between the sacred and the profane.