The repeated paragraph in Selichot that introduces the Thirteen Attributes includes the phrase "increasingly grants pardon to careless sinners and foregiveness to willful ones" (Artscroll Siddur tranlsation). I have seen at least three different vowelizations of the Hebrew text of this phrase (capitalizations are to emphasize the differences):

  1. marbeh mechila LEchatta-im uselicha LAposhe'im (e.g. Artscroll)
  2. marbeh mechila LAchatta-im uselicha LAposhe'im (e.g. Chabad (PDF))
  3. marbeh mechila LEchatta-im uselicha LEfoshe'im (I forget where, but I've definitely seen it, probably in an older Machzor or Selichot book.)

Usually, "le" would mean "to," while "la," would mean "to the."


  • Why are there different versions of this?
  • Do the different versions imply different meanings?
  • Why does Version 1 apparently include "the" for the second class of sinners, but not the first?
  • Why is Artscroll's translation, which omits a "the" for the second class of sinners, apparently inconsistent with its version (1) of the Hebrew text?
  • 2
    +1 for doubling the 't' in chaTTaim. With a dagesh chazak (and a patach under the chet) it means sinners. Without a dagesh chazak (and with a chataf patach under the chet) it means sins. So unless you differentiate between chataf and regular patach (which would be TOTALLY COOL) then mark that dagesh!
    – Double AA
    Jul 5, 2012 at 4:44
  • IINM 3 is used in the Koren/Sacks
    – Double AA
    Jul 24, 2016 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


The version with "la-" seems to be more widespread, and also older; I looked at several old siddurim on Hebrewbooks, from the 16th-18th centuries, and they all have it this way (as well as in Neilah, "אתה נותן יד לַפּוֹשְׁעִים"). Both of the primary grammarians of the Siddur text, R' Zalman Hanau and R' Yaakov Emden, also have לַפּוֹשְׁעִים in their texts of Neilah.

It is true that there's the consideration that Yahu mentioned, based on the Gemara in Nedarim, of using "le-" instead. Taz (Orach Chaim 582:2) cites it in connection with זכרנו לחיים (and Magen Avraham ibid. :4 also endorses saying לחיים with a sheva). The Gra seems to be a solitary opinion in extending this to other parts of davening as well. Perhaps the difference is that in זכרנו we are actually asking for life, and so we don't want to accidentally be asking for the opposite, G-d forbid; whereas in Selichos and in Neilah, the relevant phrases are descriptive (of what Hashem does) rather than petitionary, and so (according to everyone else) there is less concern for misunderstanding there.

It is also possible that the standard version with "la-" is influenced by Is. 53:12, where we have וְלַפֹּשְׁעִים. (There's no instance of לחטאים in Tanach.) Maybe that would explain Artscroll's inconsistency: they're following the Gra's version where it doesn't conflict with the nikkud of the verse.


Artscroll has it backwards and I would check siddur Aliyos Eliyahu for the correct nikkud in the Ashkenazic tradition because of the inconsistency. Version 2 is consistent. Version 3 is shittas HaGra based on the Gemarah in Nedarim, that La in front of a word could mean a negation. So in this context it could mean "no sinners etc." could imply wishing for the sinners' annihilation or "not for sinners" implying no forgiveness for them (us!). So the Gra says the correct version is Le-.

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