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Is there a difference between a חֵטְא (cheit) and an עֲבֵרָה (aveira)? I translate both of those words as "sin." Maybe they signify a different level of magnitude? Or maybe one word is simply applied to one type of sin while the other is applied to another type? Maybe there is no difference at all?

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One could also wonder about avon, pesha, and chataa. +1, anyway. But indicating where you've come across these words would help people evaluate them (e.g., if they're from different eras or the like). – msh210 Jun 14 '13 at 15:23
I have had recently had this same question. Thank you for posting. – Lee Jun 14 '13 at 18:12
@LeeFogel, here are your sources: Sources for at least four categories of 'sin': עו‍ן (Shemot 34:7) פשע (Shemot 34:7) חטא/ה (Shemot 34:7) עבירה (Avot 4:2) For future reference, you don't need to insert them into the question; you can leave a comment. – Seth J Jun 14 '13 at 18:54
Thanks! Should I retract them from the question? Unfortunately, comments don't seem to allow hyperlinks... – Lee Jun 14 '13 at 18:59
Per @msh210's comment, I included examples of how each type of 'sin' is used in a particular context in an effort to illustrate their differences (e.g. perhaps a perush exists on Shemot/Avot that could further illuminate). – Lee Jun 14 '13 at 19:14

I found a quote from the Malbim in Ayelet HaShachar, I couldn't find the original online (according to wikipedia it was published as part of HaTorah VeHaMitzvah). Ayelet HaShachar is a linguistic guide to similar words.

Ayelet HaShachar 363:

‏[ חטא עון פשע ] פעל חטא נאמר על הנטיה מדרך הראוי וכולל בין השוגג בין המזיד כל שלא היה בסיבת כפירה ומינות, ועל כן הוצרך לאמר כי תחטא בשגגה ( ויקרא קצב ויקרא שמח ), אבל אם באו השמות בדיוק וכ"ש כשנרדפים ידח, יציין בשם חטא את השוגג, ובשם עון את המעוה מצד השכל שהוא המזיד. ובשם פשע יציין את המורד בשאט נפש ( ויקרא קצב אחרי כא אחרי נה ), ולפי זה המעוה הוא הפך השוגג. והפשע הוא הפך האונס. והחוטא הוא הפך הספק ( אחרי נה ):‏

In short (assuming I understood it correctly):

  • "חטא" - means deviating from the right path, whether on purpose or accident. As long as it was not done as an act of denying or heresy.

  • "עון" - someone intellectually decides to sin. i.e. on purpose

  • "פשע" - someone who rebels in disgust (see Yechezkel 36:5)

Based on this, I would posit that "עֲבֵרָה" just means a sin, in general. While "חטא", "עון", and "פשע" are particular styles of sin.

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Avera-intentional sin

Pesha-intentional sin to make Hashem angry (kivyachol)

Chet-unintentional sin

Source: HaRav Yosef Mizrahi Shalit"a, and Siddur Kawanat HaLev.

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