Shemoneh Esrei #6 – Selicha (Forgiveness)

As we will see in Mitzvah #433, there is an obligation for us to try to get closer to God through prayer. To help us fulfill this, our Sages established a prayer to be recited thrice-daily, corresponding to the prayers of our Forefathers. This prayer is called the Amidah (because it is recited standing); the weekday version is also called Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions (although a nineteenth has since been added). Once a week for nineteen weeks, we will review the contents of the 19 blessings of “Shemoneh Esrei.”

In the fifth blessing, we asked God to help us in doing teshuvah, turning away from our bad habits and mending our ways. As a consequence of that, we ask Him in the sixth bracha to forgive us for our transgressions and lapses in judgment. This prayer contains an element of vidui (confession) in that we acknowledge before God that we have sinned.

We actually ask for two types of forgiveness for two types of sins. First, we request selicha for our chata’im, meaning that we ask God to overlook sins that we did without thinking. We were careless, we made mistakes and we’ll try to do better but no harm was intended.

Next, we ask God for mechilah for our p’sha’im. This type of sin is intentional. Willfully disobeying God is a form of rebelling against Him. While we are deserving of punishment, we ask that he grant us a pardon the same way that a governor or president might.

At the start of the bracha, we ask God for selicha and them mechilah. In the next part, we flip it around and say that God is mocheil v’solei’ach, that He pardons and overlooks. There are several explanations for this. One of them is that forgiveness occurs in degrees. When God pardons our p’sha’im, the intentional transgressions, they are reduced in stature to chata’im, the careless sins (sort of like bargaining a felony down to a misdemeanor). When He wipes away our chata’im, the former p’sha’im are then included.

The blessing concluded that God is “Chanun, haMarbeh lisloach,” the Gracious One with an abundant ability to forgive. Forgiveness is not something one automatically receives. What one objectively deserves is to be punished. The fact that God grants us forgiveness is a result of His grace alone and not a sign of any inherent merits on our part.

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