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Elevator Prayer

Remember the old joke: What’s the BERACHA for going up in elevators? Of course, the corny answer was YA’ALE V’YAVO, which means ‘may one rise and arrive’. That corny pun does remind us of the awe and thrill we should feel in our prayerful ascent towards God on special occasions. We add this extraordinary request on the days upon which additional offerings (MUSAF) were brought when our ancestors would ascend to the Beit HaMikdash, even on days when work was permitted, namely Chol HaMoed and Rosh Chodesh. It’s important that we feel the added sanctity of these occasions, in spite of performing regular creative activities.  

The idea of a special prayer for these days is mentioned in the Talmud (Shabbat 24a), and is based on a verse (Bamidbar 10:10), which demands special trumpet blasts on days with MUSAF offerings. The name of this prayer isn’t mentioned until Masechet Sofrim, written in the 8th century. So, there is speculation over the origin of this prayer. Although there is no consensus, many authorities believe that this prayer was originally a PIYUT, liturgical poem, recited during the section of ZICHRONOT (remembrances) in the MUSAF prayer of Rosh Hashanah.  

In my last article in this series, I discussed the blessing RETZE. Note that this blessing contains a unique ‘request’: Please, God, consider this prayer which I’m directing to You as a Divine service, similar to the Temple offerings of old. In other words, this isn’t about any physical needs, just let me cleave to You. That would be sublime. This addition is also begging that our additional service be acceptable, favorable and delightful to You, our God.  

After the normal beginning for PIYUTTIM (ELOKEINU V’ELOIKEI AVOTEINU, our God and the God of our ancestors), we have a list of eight verbs. There are a number of beautiful ideas about how to understand this list. The most famous is that these verbs correspond to the seven levels of Heaven: YA’ALE is VILON, YAVO is RAKIA, YAGIAH (should reach) is SH’CHAKIM, YERA’E (be seen) is MA’ON, YERATZE (be accepted or favored) is Z’VUL, YISHAMA (Be heard) is MACHON, and the last two verbs, YIPAKED (be considered) joins YIZACHER (be remembered) to arrive at the highest level, AREIVUT.  

That is very moving and a wonderful way to describe the elevation of our offerings or prayers to Heaven, but I prefer another approach. These verbs are describing a pilgrim’s ascent to Yerushalayim and the Temple Mount. In this scenario we are following the supplicant’s climb up the stairs, entering the outer gate, reaching the courtyard, being acknowledged by God or the Cohen, then having the offering accepted, one’s plea be heard, request be granted, and this merit being remembered and recorded for posterity.  

The next part of this prayer or PIYUT continues to emphasize the last two verbs, POKED and ZACHOR. We are remembered and, in some way, recognized or even given an assignment (TAFKID) by God. The term ZICHRON (remembrance appears five times. That seems to acknowledge the 5 times God informs us of Divine remembrance of the BRIT AVOT (Patriarchal Covenant with God, Shmot 6:4, Vayikra 26:42 & 45). The reference to PAKDEINU is assumed to come from Moshe Rabbeinu’s experience at the Burning Bush, POKEID POKADITI ETCHEM, and appears to be a code which the Jewish elders, Z’KEINIM, would recognize and believe that the redemption was at hand (Shmot 3:15, based on Breishit 50:25).  

The specific entities to be remembered are the AVOT, MASHIACH, Yerushalayim, and God’s nation Yisrael. This request to remain in God’s attention is for the purpose of PLEITA, deliverance or survival. That word is related to PALIT, refugee or one who escapes. That’s, as Jews, who we are: history’s survivors.  

Just before we announce the special occasion that we are celebrating we list the six blessings for which we are requesting to be remembered for: TOV (goodness or well-being), CHEN (grace), (CHESED (loving kindness), RACHAMIM (compassion), CHAYIM (life), and SHALOM! It’s been pointed out that this same sextet appears in the last BERACHA of the Amida, SIM SHALOM. There are those who aver that these six also correspond to the Priestly Blessings, two corresponding to each of the three verses.  

After identifying the specific special day that we are commemorating, we have three declarations. These statements are famous because, when recited in a minyan aloud, the community responds AMEN! We are supplicating to God for 1. Remember us for good (probably here means forever), 2. Recollect us or visit upon us blessing (increase), 3. Save us for life.  

Remember at the beginning of this piece I suggested that this whole prayer was probably originally a PIYUT for Rosh Hashanah, if that’s true, then these three phrases can be connected to the holidays of Tishre. Remember us on Rosh Hashanah, recollect us on Yom Kippur, and save us on Sukkot, when we recite HOSHANOT.  

We close the prayer with a supplication for God to fulfill the Divine promise (D’VAR) to always treat Yisrael with RACHAMIM, CHUS (mercy), and CHEN. Because we have always looked to God to be our gracious monarch.  

Whenever rabbis discuss Ya’aleh V’yavo, they always focus on what to do when you forget to insert this prayer. There’s a plethora of web sites which address that sad issue. I say it’s sad because we forget it because we’re not concentrating when we recite our TEFILOT. Me. Too. I’m more interested in why on weekdays we place this prayer in the blessing of RETZE, but on CHAGIM, we recite it as part of the main middle blessing, which describes the sanctity of the occasion.  

I think it belongs in RETZE on workdays, because the middle blessings are about more mundane requests for human needs. RETZE is a spiritual appeal for God to accept our service. But on CHAGIM, the middle blessing is about the special, religious nature of this celebration. Ya’aleh V’yavo fits right in with that material. It gets skipped entirely in Musaf, because that entire AMIDA prayer is already about begging God to accept our special holiday offerings.  

This little prayer is truly cool. It reminds us that the special holiday mood should be about the spiritual high we should be feeling, and not just the special holiday foods and comraderrie. On Rosh Chodesh it helps us to recall that in Temple days Rosh Chodesh was a festive occasion. In any case, let this modest prayer help you to soar to amazing spiritual heights, just go up the elevator. 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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