On the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah , at midnight, Ashkenazic Jewry begins to recite the Selichot prayers.

There are many different terms used to express forgiveness in the Torah and Rabbinic liturgy. "Yislach", "kapara" (literally, "atonement"), "nosay avone", (literally "bear iniquity"), "ovair al pesha" (literally, "forgive transgression"), "nirtzeh avono" (literally, "repentance for the iniquity is acceptable"), "avonatee macha" (literally, "erase my sin"), "kabsainee ma'avonee" (literally, "cleanse me from iniquity"), "may'chatotee taharaynee" (literally, "purify me from my sin"), and more.

Final Selichot, Erev Yom Kippur, 2AM, Sept.17,2010, Western Wall (photo credit: Gutman Locks)
Final Selichot, Erev Yom Kippur, 2AM, Sept.17,2010, Western Wall (photo credit: Gutman Locks)
Only "Selicha" can denote absolute forgiveness…

Each one has of course, its special meaning and represents a unique form of rectification. For instance, when one says, "I have removed from you all your transgression", it infers that the transgressions have a reality of their own, only now they are removed from any association with the person. "Bears iniquity" - that the iniquity remains, only G‑d bears it and suffers with it. "He erases iniquity", means that G‑d represses its effects. But when sin or iniquity is forgiven, then the result is as if the sin never had a existence at all. "Selicha" means complete forgiveness so that there remains absolutely no trace of the sin. For only "Selicha" can denote absolute forgiveness.

It is interesting to note therefore, that the word "selicha" in all of the Tanach is only used by G‑d himself and never between one person and another. A person cannot repair something as if it was never ruined. Only G‑d can give absolute forgiveness so that the transgression is forgiven as if it never occurred.

[Adapted from Sefer HaCarmel of the Malbim, "Selach" by Binyomin Adliman]