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This week, we reach the bracha of Selicha.  In this bracha, we ask Hashem for selicha (Selach Lanu) and mechila (Mechal Lanu).  HaRav Yonasan Eibeschutz, Z’tl, explains that selicha refers to the complete extinguishment of the sin, while mechila still requires yissurim.  Accordingly, HaRav Eibeschutz continues, one should sincerely plead for selicha in this bracha--so that his sins are forgiven without having to suffer through difficult yissurim which would cause bitul Torah or Tefillah.  As in the bracha of Hashiveinu discussed last week, we plead with the words Selach Lanu Avinu--asking Hashem as our Father to mercifully wipe away our iniquity entirely so that we can begin our lives again without the hurt of yissurim and with fresh resolve and new dedication.  This bracha contains very powerful requests--and the kavana that we have should match the inherent potency of the bracha!



The following is excerpted from the monumental work Rav Schwab on Prayer, the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Schwab, Z’tl:  “…Boruch Attah Hashem Chanun HaMarbeh LiSloach--Blessed are you Hashem, the gracious One who pardons abundantly.  Chanun, as opposed to Chonein, is the pu’al form, and means “You graciously grant the requests that are made of You.”  If we pray for forgiveness, HaKadosh Baruch Hu ‘allows Himself to be entreated’, and even adds to the forgiveness, He is HaMarbeh L’Sloach:  He increases His forgiveness to the point that He considers the aveiros that we have done B’Shogeig to have been Zechuyos.”  Hakhel Note:  The more we focus on the exact wording implanted in the Shemone Esrei by the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah the more we can appreciate its explosive potency.  We need not have the in depth and hidden meanings at our finger tips or on our minds--but we most definitely should have the powerful plain meaning of the words focused in on the 5-10 minute Shemone Esrei that we pray.  Over the course of a day, this amounts to approximately a half hour or less of paying good attention to what you are saying--in your audience with the King of Kings .  Oh, how worthwhile it is and will be o have that focus!  (As to the singular importance of the ‘plain meaning’ of the words, see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 98, Mishna Berurah seif katan 1).



It is important to note that this is the only bracha in Shemone Esrei (at least in Nusach Ashkenaz) that has the word Ki--because in the bracha three times.  This brings to the fore Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s superlative thought on Teshuva in one of his classic Teshuva Shiurim (all of his must-listen-to Teshuva Series is available through yadyechiel.org).  Rabbi Frand points out that we begin our Vidui with the phrase ‘Aval Anachnu Va’Avoseinu Chatanu--but we and our fathers have sinned.  What is the ‘but’ all about in Vidui?  Why is Aval an essential part of our Teshuva?  Rabbi Frand brings that the essence of Aval is taken from Yosef’s brothers--who upon being accused of being spies, exclaimed ‘Aval Ashaimim Anachnu...--but we are guilty....’The ‘but’ there conveys the brothers’ stark realization that all that they had done until that point was based upon excuses--But this, But that--while in real truth the test of Yosef coming to them alone should have been handled otherwise--and he should have not been thrown into the pit, nor sold into slavery.  With the words Aval Anachnu Va’Avoseinu Chatanu we honestly convey that our sins are also based in excuses--but I had to look at that, but I had to say this, but I had to go there, but I had to eat something, but I didn’t have time, but I couldn’t do it....  the beginnings of Vidui are admitting the excuses--and ridding yourself of them.  One should look out for the word ‘but’ in anything that you are about to rationalize or justify--to make sure that you won’t have to Teshuva for that ‘but’.   In the Bracha of Selach Lanu- with the word Ki  mentioned three times we suggest that we ask for pardon and forgiveness--BECAUSE we realize the foible of the ‘but’ syndrome, and BECAUSE we recognize that Hashem is Pardoning and All-Forgiving despite the pretexts and excuses. When saying the word Ki--remind yourself of the ‘buts’ of the past--and concomitantly plead and rejoice in the way out of the ‘Aval’s--the Ki’s that Hashem so graciously provides us with!



Today's teaching is excerpted from the Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah by Rabbi Meyer Birnbaum, Shlita.  The Sefer Orchos Chaim of the Rosh (36) writes--”What good is it to ask for Selicha in Selach Lanu--if one does so without having Kavanna?”  Indeed, HaRav Yecheskel Sarna, Z’tl, writes that asking for forgiveness without Kavanna ridicules the concept of asking for forgiveness.  On the other hand, the Sefer Olas Tomid concludes if one does recite Selach Lanu with a feeling of remorse over specific sins that he has done in the past, and with a Kabbala not to do so in the future-- then he has fulfilled the Mitzvas Asei in the Torah of Teshuva within his daily Shemone Esrei!



The Sifsei Chaim, HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, asks why the two Brachos of Hashiveinu and Selach Lanu are not, in fact, combined as one.  After all, does not Hashiveinu begin the Teshuva process and Selach Lanu complete it--as two parts of one whole?  HaRav Friedlander answers that Chazal specifically separated our Bracha of Selach Lanu in order for us to fulfill the Fifteenth Ikar HaTeshuva listed in the Sha’arei Teshuva (1:41-42).  The Fifteenth Ikar is Tefillah--that one should daven to Hashem and ask for His mercy in forgiving and erasing his sins.  HaRav Friedlander concludes that it is part of Hashem’s incredible kindness--that He allows us to come back to Him and pray time after time with this fault and that foible, and still forgive us through our Tefillos to have our Teshuva accepted.  It is for this reason that we conclude the Bracha with the words HaMarbeh LeSeloach--for Hashem abundantly forgives us--time and time again, and brings us to the level of Selichah, as if we had not sinned!  What a daily opportunity--and we have it three times a day!



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The Machzor Kol Bo teaches that this bracha begins with a Samech and ends with a Ches which in Gematria totals 68--the Gematria of Chaim, and this is to teach that one can be forgiven for his sins in the zechus of his Torah--which is called Chaim (“Toras Chaim”).  How exact are the Brachos of Shemone Esrei--even the first and last letter of our Bracha is especially determined to convey a message!  We note that, just as in the prior Bracha of Hashiveinu in which the terms Avinu and Malkeinu were used in the first two phrases of the Bracha, so too, do we follow the same order again in the first two phrases of this Bracha--“Selach Lanu Avinu Ki Chatanu, Mechal Lanu Malkeinu Ki Fashanu.  We begin with asking for Selicha.  What is Selicha?  HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, brings two approaches: (i)  the Ramban (in this week’s Parsha!, Bamidbar 14:17) writes that Selicha refers to Hashem dropping the punishment that was otherwise deserved;  (ii) the Malbim (ibid.), however, writes that Selicha means the actual erasure of the sin (mechikas hacheit) from Hashem’s records--and this is even  greater than Mechilah.  One final thought for today:  We ask Hashem, as ‘Avinu’, to forgive us for our chataim--which are usually taken to mean unintentional sins.  By this, we ask Hashem to look upon our sins--no matter how they may have originated--as unintentional--just as a father looks with a loving eye upon his children.


The Sefer Olas Tomid writes that one should actually express his Viduy in this Bracha--and by doing so he fulfills a Mitzvas Asei of the Torah.  When expressing one’s Viduy, one should have in mind two distinct thoughts:  (i) that one regrets what he has done in the past, and (ii) one accepts upon himself to be careful going forward regarding this sin.  The Olas Tomid provides specific examples to jar one’s thinking:  one should express his Viduy on any Bitul Torah, Lashon Hora, jealousy and the like that he has sinned with that day.  Moreover, because the word chait really means chisaron, or lacking--one should express in his Viduy any Mitzvah or good practice that he has skipped over and not done, and take upon himself to be more careful with it in the future.  We now continue with the next phrase of the Bracha:  Mechal Lanu Malkeinu Ki Fashanu--Forgive us King because we have rebelled against You.”  The Avudraham points out that a sin which a father may consider to be unintentional may leave a king with no choice but to deem it intentional--because after all, any infraction is pogem the Kavod HaMelech.  Accordingly, we ask Hashem, as the King of the universe, to forgive us for these serious offenses.  The term Mechila itself, writes HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, (in the name of the Sefer Nachal Eshkol) is based in the word chalal--meaning that we ask Hashem to weaken, reduce and downgrade the extent of what we have done.  In a related explanation, HaRav Friedlander brings the Radvaz to the effect that Mechila means a cleaning-out--we ask Hashem to clean out the aveirah, just as a pipe filled with garbage and gook is emptied out as much as possible.  If we picture our aveiros for what they really are--garbage and gook--we could perhaps save ourselves many times from having to ask for the Selicha and Mechila we so importantly request in this Bracha. 




The next phrase in the Bracha is:  Ki Mochel V’Sole’ach Atta”.  The Eitz Yosef points out that in the order here we now mention Mochel before Sole’ach, even though previously in the Bracha we asked for Selicha and then Mechila.  The Eitz Yosef explains this reversal of order here as follows:   We want Hashem to downgrade our intentional sins to unintentional sins because of the Teshuvah MeYirah that we do.  When Hashem does this, He is Mochel--reducing the seriousness of the sin and rendering it a shogeig, an unintentional sin.  Once we are left with the unintentional sin, then through our Teshuva we look to Hashem to be a Sole’ach--removing the sin completely.  HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, echoes this thought by explaining that we are now describing how Hashem is not only a Mochel--but even a Sole’ach--completely eradicating the sin and its effects.  HaRav Friedlander adds that the words Mochel and Sole’ach are in the hoveh--present tense, in order for us to emphasize that Hashem always conducts Himself with such Chesed--pardoning us and forgiving us--not only annually, not only monthly, not only daily--but at each and every one of our Tefillos! 




There are four brachos which ‘explain’ why we plead to Hashem for assistance:  Ki Mochel V’Sole’ach Atta, Ki Go’el Chazak Atta, Ki Kel Melech Rofei Ne’eman V’Rachaman Atta and Ki L’Yeshuasecha Kivinu Kol HaYom--then in the broad-based Bracha of Shema Koleinu, we find a double emphasis on the explanation of why we come before Hashem--Ki Kel Shom’ea Tefillos VeSachanunim Atta and Ki Atta Shome’a Tefillas Amecha Yisroel B’Rachamim.  Hashem, of course, needs no explanation as to why we come before Him!  We should take each of these points in Davening as directed to us--to awaken us as to why we are standing before Hashem and making this specific request--and be inspired to sincerely plead our request before Him!  In the context of our Bracha here--we humbly admit that we have sullied ourselves with sin--and now approach Hashem to actually clean up the mess that we have made--and He does so!




We conclude the Bracha by praising Hashem as the Chanun HaMarbeh L’Selo’ach.  HaRav Chaim Kaniesvky, Shlita, explains that the term Chanun means that Hashem ‘gifts’ forgiveness to us--for free, and is based on the Pasuk in Yoel (2:13): “Ki Chanun V’Rachum Hu V’Nicham Al HaRa’ah”.  The final phrase of HaMarbeh L’Selo’ach--Who pardons abundantly, reminds us that not only does Hashem forgive us once or twice, but time and time again.  He does not lose patience with us, nor does He ever, ever cease heeding our sincere Tefillos.  This last phrase, too, is based on a Pasuk (Yeshaya 95:7) “V’El Elokeinu Ki Yarbeh LiSeloach”.  Time after time after time, Hashem wipes out the hurtful and dangerous sin that had actually once been in existence in this world--oh, how we must at least recognize and appreciate this Great Gift--when reciting these words!


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