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As is par for the course this time of year I'm thinking a lot about the idea of "selicha", coming right off the tails of Yom Kippur and selichot. I'm conflicted about the idea of forgiveness/atonement as it's explained in the Talmud (that it wipes away sins and could even become a mitzvah) as I'm not sure if I even see that as an ideal. But I'm even more curious about the actual definition of the word סלח as it's used in prayer/Talmud vs. in Tanakh. A lot of the text and ideas of "atonement" in prayer come from 2 main sources:

(1) The Golden Calf - this is the source for וַיַּעֲבֹ֨ר יְהוָ֥ה ׀ עַל־פָּנָיו֮ וַיִּקְרָא֒ (including the use of the 13 Attributes of Faith in prayer)

(2) The spies -- this is the source for וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה סָלַ֖חְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶֽךָ׃

However, if we look at these stories we see that in the Golden Calf, the version of "forgiveness" that God gives the Jews who sinned with the Golden Calf is simply that He doesn't wipe out the Jewish people and start anew with Moshe. However, this comes after Moshe had already had 3000 people killed for sinning against God (See: Exodus 32:26). This isn't some beautiful "forgiveness" as we want to think of it. This is after taking retribution, God not killing everybody.

Similarly, in the story of the spies, God's "forgiveness" that he refers to in "salachti" is that He doesn't kill every Jew. Rather, He wipes them out slowly but surely in the desert over 40 years and nobody can enter the land of Israel.

This stands in stark contrast to the vision of "forgiveness" that is discussed in the Talmud, and to my mind, that we teach in school: this idea and vision that forgiveness is to literally expunge the "sin" from your record.

I'm wondering if maybe this version of forgiveness maybe comes from a mistranslation of the word סלח. Further, I'm wondering if perhaps (and this is kind of a stretch, but hence why I'm asking the all-knowing Internet) if words in Tanakh maybe had much less "internal" meaning than we think of nowadays. That is, maybe the word סלח means "lessen your punishment" and similarly, חשב means "to act in accordance with". I'm just spitballing here and I don't actually have evidence for this claim -- but would be curious what people think about this.

Thanks in advance,

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    Have you considered as well the terms מחילה and כפרה? Maybe the vision of forgiveness you're imagining is more related to one of those? – Double AA Sep 29 '20 at 17:55
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    @DoubleAA jewishlink.news/features/… – wfb Sep 29 '20 at 18:54
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    @wfb Ouch! I can't believe they published that – Double AA Sep 29 '20 at 18:56
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    Though, even if it were related to "mechilah" or "kaparah" it doesn't negate the fact that God uses the phrase "salachti kidvarecha" and that that becomes the basis for "slicha" in the prayer. – LivingRobot Sep 29 '20 at 19:06
  • Which comments in the Talmud are you referring to? You didn't cite any specific examples so its hard to answer. I don't see any evidence of a contradiction. – Jay Sep 29 '20 at 23:21

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