Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 22 November 2014 / 29 Heshvan 5775

The Shemoneh Esrei - The Sixth Blessing - Part 2

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned accidently; pardon us, our King, for we have willfully transgressed — for You pardon and forgive.”

What is the reason we mention accidental sins when addressing God as our Father, while, when addressing God as King, we mention willful sins?

Because of the great love a father has for a son, he will look at even willful sins committed against him as though they were accidental. In contrast to this, a king can sometimes treat an accidental sin in the same way as willful transgression, giving both the same punishment.

Alternatively, we can see the change in language as an instruction to one approaching a king for forgiveness. Instead of saying that he only sinned accidently, he should accept upon himself responsibility as if he transgressed willfully even though the act was done only accidently. By doing so one can merit a full pardon, which is even greater than being forgiven. When one is forgiven for a wrongdoing, the act still remains, but when one is pardoned it is as if the act was never done.

“Blessed are You, G-d, the gracious One Who pardons abundantly.”

According to the simple meaning we mention G-d as being gracious since, strictly speaking, one is not obligated to forgive or pardon. Rather, when one pardons it is an act of goodwill on the part of the wronged party.

The Jewish nation is taught to emulate G-d's behavior, and since G-d is merciful and forgiving we are also expected to act in a merciful and benevolent manner. It is therefore praiseworthy to always work to find it in one's heart to forgive. However, in truth, it is not fair or logical to expect or think that someone must forgive him. Rather, the fact that the Torah encourages a person who was wronged to forgive does not take away the obligation from the person being forgiven to recognize that he has received a favor.

Alternatively, it is difficult for humans to forgive someone who hurt them even once. To do so a second or third time would be close to impossible. However, since G-d’s ability to forgive is unlimited, G-d can forgive a person for the same type of act several times (provided that when he asks for forgiveness he is sincere). We thus proclaim that G-d is gracious to us, forgiving and pardoning us over and over without limit.

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