As part of the selichos prayers, we recite the words “אל נא תשת עלינו חטאת אשר נואלנו ואשר חטאנו.” Artscroll translates these words as “Please do not reckon for us a sin, what we have done foolishly and what we have sinned.” This plea, though understandable when coming from someone who has sinned and fears retribution, is a bit peculiar.
Frankly, what is it asking? Is it asking for forgiveness for “foolishly done” sins or for all sins? And what – if anything – distinguishes between a “foolishly done” sin and one that is not done foolishly?
The text of this plea is first found in Beha’aloscha (Numbers 12:11). After Aharon and Miriam have been informed by G-d of Moshe’s special prophetic role (special even when compared with other prophets, such as themselves), Aharon asks his younger brother for forgiveness.
R. Samson R. Hirsch’s Commentary on the Torah deals with this pasuk. He asks what the plea means: Aharon stated explicitly that he sinned – how could he ask for it not to be considered a sin? R. Hirsch suggests that Aharon was simply asking for a pardon from retribution – perhaps specifically a pardon from the tzara’as described in the immediately preceding verse.
If we are to assume that the plea for forgiveness we say in selichos is similar to that of Aharon, according to R. Hirsch we are not distinguishing between “foolishly done” sins and other ones. The request is, instead, a broad acknowledgement of guilt as well as request for pardon.