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After we pray for assistance to repent, we can then ask Hashem for forgiveness. It would be phony to petition for forgiveness before we show an attempt at repentance. Thus, we pray to Hashem, “Slach lonu Avinu, ki chatonu – Forgive us our Father, for we have sinned, M’chal lonu Makeinu, ki foshonu – Absolve us our King, for we have rebelled.”

One of the challenges of proper prayer is to know the subtle differences in words that have very similar meanings. An example is the words slach and m’chal, which seem to convey the same idea. The Eitz Yosef, Iyun Tefillah, and the Siddur M’foresh all say that selicha denotes complete forgiveness while mechila is only partial absolution which still leaves an impression of sin. However, in a footnote, the Siddur M’foresh sites a differing opinion from the Pri Megadim, that selicha is only partial while mechila is complete. So too, the Artscroll sites the Avudrahan that selicha indicates that there will be no punishment while mechila promises that there won’t be even any harboring of resentment and ill will.


It would seem to me that the word slach points to the former opinion – that it is a total forgiveness, since it is the same letters as the word chasal, which means to ‘finish completely.’ Furthermore, since we say “Ki tov v’solei’ach Attah – For You absolve and forgive,” it would seem to indicate by the order that solei’ach is the finishing process. So too, the end of the bracha, “Chanun hamarbeh lislo’ach – The gracious One Who forgives many times,” would point to the fact that slicha is the more complete of the two.

In the first stanza, we mention that Hashem is our Father while in the second stanza we refer to Him as our King. The Avudrahan explains ki chatonu means we made a mistake. That’s the attitude of a father, who views everything as a mistake. Even if it was a willful act, in his love the father reasons that his child just doesn’t know better, while “M’chal lonu Malkeinu ki foshonu – Absolve us our King for we have rebelled,” to a king, everything is viewed as rebellion. Even a mistake should not have happened when in the presence of majesty. The Yaros Devash says that when we do the same sin three times, it is then called a pasha. At that time, we lose the relationship of a father to a son, and we only have the relationship of a subject to a king.

The Olas Tomid teaches the important objective that when we say slach lonu avinu ki chotonu, we should have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah d’Oriasa, the Biblical precept of vidui, confession. And, at this point, we should think about any specific sin we might have performed since the last time we prayed. He advises that it would be good to remember the sage advice of the Orchos Chaim l’Harosh, “Uma tov livakeish selicha al amar ‘slach lonu’ b’lo kavanah – And how good it is to ask forgiveness for saying the prayer to ‘forgive us’ without thought.”

The opening petition, “Slach lonu Avinu, ki chatonu – Forgive us our Father, because we sinned,” is a bit puzzling. Is it sensible that Hashem should forgive us because we sinned? Should he absolve us because we rebelled? Therefore, the Iyun Tefillah renders the word ki to mean af al pi, even though. Others define ki as ‘when.’ In a novel interpretation, the Derech Mitzvosecha explains the word because as follows: we ask Hashem Himself, who as unlimited mercy, to forgive us and not the pamalya shel maala, the Heavenly tribunal. For because we have sinned repeatedly, we need Hashem’s bountiful compassion.

It’s interesting: In the first stanza, since the word chatonu means mistake, we can understand that we are asking Hashem to forgive us because we made a mistake. The problem is with the second stanza, machal lonu ki foshonu. How can we say that Hashem should absolve us because we have rebelled? There is another definition of the word foshonu, which means ‘neglect,’ as in the word peshia, a word that’s common in the Gemara which means ‘neglect.’ Then, this stanza would also fit for we are saying, ‘Absolve us because we were just being neglectful and not willful.’ However, then we would not be asking for absolution for severe crimes which would not be a likely interpretation of the blessing.

The bracha concludes, “Boruch Attah Hashem, chanun hamarbeh lislo’ach – Blessed are you Hashem, the gracious One, who forgives us many times.” We give heartfelt thanks to Hashem for forgiving us even though we are repeat offenders. Rav Avraham, the son of the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, zy”a, adds that we thank Hashem for forgiving us even though He knows that we will do it again.

May we always merit Hashem’s forgiveness and be blessed with long life, good health and everything wonderful.


Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.


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