Such a powerful word.
In Hebrew you can say you are sorry for something – "אני מצטער/ת", or you can say that you want to apologize for your behavior or actions – "אני מתנצל/ת".
But "סליחה" is a bit different; you must consider the tone and facial expression of the speaker in order to better understand true intentions...
"סליחה = excuse me"
Here you are using the word when you feel uncomfortable to "bother" someone in a given situation. Say you want to know what time it is - "סליחה, מה השעה?", or when you wish to make your way through a crowded place- "סליחה אפשר לעבור?", or if you just wish to get your waiter's attention – "סליחה אפשר חשבון"?
"אההההה.... סליחה!" = non- apology or pseudo-apology
Here you are using the word without truly apologizing but setting the stage for a counter-attack: "listen, you are out of line” and I won’t stand for it. Actually, the long "aaaaaaaa" gives the indication that this is not truly an apology, destroying any opportunity for mutual understanding.
"סליחה באמת!" = it’s not my fault but I had to do what I did
Here the speaker is both failing to apologize and is trying to further rationalize or justify the words or actions as totally appropriate under the circumstances.
סליחה = forgiveness
Here you are truly asking for forgiveness - "אני מבקש/ת סליחה". This empowers the injured party ("הסולח/ת") and provides that person with the opportunity to exercise judgment and control over the situation. When you sincerely seek forgiveness and not just saying you are sorry, you are actually waiting to see if the offended person will consent to forgive and forget.
The root ס.ל.ח is quite ancient and originally the power of forgiveness was provided to only the most respected, merciful and supreme judge – G-d.
So the true takeaway - "אני רוצה לבקש סליחה" (to seek forgiveness) is not always an easy task to undertake, but it is a compelling moral and spiritual obligation and most of all – an amazing right.
אני מצטער/ת - I am sorry
אני מתנצל/ת – I apologize
סליחה – excuse me, forgiveness
אני רוצה לבקש סליחה – I want to ask for forgiveness
סולח/ת – forgiving person
אני סולח/ת – I forgive