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Ya'aleh Veyavo is said on three occasions: in the third blessing of Birchas Hamazon, in the third to last blessing of Shmoneh Esrei on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed, and in the Kedushas Hayom (middle blessing of Shmoneh Esrei) of Yom Tov. The common denominator is that it's said whenever you need something generic to say about the day.

However, it's hard to figure out what it really is about. A summary might be: "May HaShem remember us for good on this holiday and bless us." There is no mention of why the holiday is important, and in fact the holiday seems almost incidental to the rest of the prayer.

ArtScroll explains that on holidays we think about Jerusalem, so we ask HaShem to remember it. But this only explains a few words in the prayer.

So what exactly is Ya'aleh Veyavo all about?

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See here. I don't really understand how it comes into a "really about" more than your summary. But maybe that is all it is "really about" at the plain meaning level. –  Yishai Jun 9 at 22:16

2 Answers 2

FWIW, I can give you an idea that I developed with a friend of mine. I don't have an actual source, though this idea is based (however loosely) on the Ramban.

In short: Ya'aleh Veyavo is a prayer asking for God to judge us favorably, which is appropriate for the holidays and Rosh Chodesh because they are all mini-judgement days.

By referring to Rosh Hashana as a day of זכרון תרועה, The Torah is telling us that, on this day, we need a זכרון before God, which we accomplish by blowing the shofar. According to the Ramban (Vayikra 23:24, and in his Drasha for Rosh Hashana), this is a reference to the judgement which occurs on Rosh Hashana, and the 'זכרון' that we are seeking refers to a favorable judgement on that day. Hence, this prayer of Ya'aleh Veyavo is using the Torah's terminology (זכרון) for asking God for a favorable judgement, for us, the Jewish people, Yerushalayim, Mashiach, etc. - a perfect prayer for Rosh Hashana.

However, Rosh Hashana isn't the only time when this prayer is said, because Rosh Hashana isn't the only time when the world judged in some way, as the Mishna/Gemara Rosh Hashana states (daf 16a), that on Pesach we're judged for produce, etc. when, during the time of the Beis Hamikdash, we would have performed mitzvos to accomplish something similar to the זכרון as the shofar accomplishes on Rosh Hashana (Ramban in Drasha Rosh Hashana). Thus, the holidays are also a time appropriate for such a prayer.

Rosh Chodesh as well is a mini day of judgement. There are several sources which indicate this, but just to quote one: the Levush (O.C. 422:3) writes that the reason why we don't say a full Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is because it is a day of forgiveness, and therefore הוי כמו ראש השנה ויוה"כ שהם ימי דין, "it's like Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur which are days of judgement".

While it's true that there are other aspects of each holiday besides for the judgement that occurs on those days (such as the mitzvah of simcha), those also get their mention in the holiday prayer. But even if the דין is only tangential to the message of the holiday itself, it makes sense to be something that we'd want to daven about.

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I read from an old book by Rabbi Louis Isaac Rabinowitz that it parallels a person's trip to the temple in Jerusalem.

there's more but from from what I remember:

Yaale - he goes up the steps.

veyavo -he comes towards the kohen

veyagia - he gets there

veyerae - he appears before G-d

veyeratze - his sacrifice is accepted favorably

he goes on there, if i see it again will try to continue this

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Even if it wasn't stated explicitly, I think that the OP implied that part of the question is, "and why would we mention the festival/rosh chodesh in it". While your explanation may be true, it doesn't explain why this should be said on Rosh Chodesh –  Matt Oct 19 at 20:39
@Matt i hear. but there is a special korban on rosh chodesh though it is not brought by individuals like in the chagim where there is a mitzva of veyerae –  ray Oct 19 at 20:48
@ray Indeed and we already have a prayer parallel to that called Musaf. –  Double AA Oct 19 at 22:17
I don't see why the bringing 'a special korban' warrants a prayer speaking about a person's individual trip to and into the mikdash. –  Matt Oct 19 at 23:48

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