We are in the month of Elul, preparing for Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year.
At four times of the year the world is judged: On Passover judgment is passed concerning grain; on Shavuot concerning fruits that grow on a tree; on Rosh HaShanah, all creatures pass before Him like sheep [benei maron], as it is stated: “He Who fashions their hearts alike, Who considers all their deeds” (Psalms 33:15); and on the festival of Sukkot they are judged concerning water, i.e., the rainfall of the coming year.
We prepare ourselves by repenting/ Teshuvah in Hebrew, of our misdeeds.
The Christian response to the month of repentance
Christians frequently respond that they don’t need this month because Jesus’ sacrifice atoned for their sins. Aside from missing out on a great opportunity to draw closer to G-d and accomplish personal spiritual growth, their idea that their sins are forgiven is incorrect. The false belief that forgiveness requires a blood sacrifice.
This incorrect conclusion is based on Hebrews 9:22, which states:
And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without the shedding of blood there is no atonement.
This verse is a paraphrase of Leviticus 17:10-11, which states:
וְאִ֨ישׁ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וּמִן־הַגֵּר֙ הַגָּ֣ר בְּתוֹכָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֹאכַ֖ל כׇּל־דָּ֑ם וְנָתַתִּ֣י פָנַ֗י בַּנֶּ֙פֶשׁ֙ הָאֹכֶ֣לֶת אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וְהִכְרַתִּ֥י אֹתָ֖הּ מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמָּֽהּ׃
כִּ֣י נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר֮ בַּדָּ֣ם הִוא֒ וַאֲנִ֞י נְתַתִּ֤יו לָכֶם֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־הַדָּ֥ם ה֖וּא בַּנֶּ֥פֶשׁ יְכַפֵּֽר׃
If any person, whether of the family of Israel or a proselyte who joins them, eats any blood, I will direct My anger against the person who eats blood and cut him off from his people.
This is because the life force of the flesh is in the blood; and I gave it to you to be placed on the altar to atone for you lives. It is the blood that atones for a life.
Although the text in Hebrews suggests that blood can be used to pardon almost any sin, the text simply states that blood may not be used for any other purpose – Jews may not eat or drink it, and it may only be placed on the altar.
Many Christians are unaware that blood isn’t always necessary to receive forgiveness, nor does it forgive all types of sins.
Let us look at Leviticus 4:1-2
וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ד’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לֵאמֹר֒ נֶ֗פֶשׁ כִּֽי־תֶחֱטָ֤א בִשְׁגָגָה֙ מִכֹּל֙ מִצְוֺ֣ת ד’ אֲשֶׁ֖ר לֹ֣א תֵעָשֶׂ֑ינָה וְעָשָׂ֕ה מֵאַחַ֖ת מֵהֵֽנָּה׃
אִ֣ם הַכֹּהֵ֧ן הַמָּשִׁ֛יחַ יֶחֱטָ֖א לְאַשְׁמַ֣ת הָעָ֑ם וְהִקְרִ֡יב עַ֣ל חַטָּאתוֹ֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר חָטָ֜א פַּ֣ר בֶּן־בָּקָ֥ר תָּמִ֛ים לַיהֹוָ֖ה לְחַטָּֽאת׃
G-d Hashem spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a person unwittingly/ accidently incurs guilt in regard to any of G-d’s commandments about things not to be done, and does one of them— If it is the anointed priest who has incurred guilt, so that blame falls upon the people, he shall offer for the sin of which he is guilty a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin offering to G-d Hashem.
This sacrifice is ineffective against deliberate offenses or revolt.
Leviticus 5 is talking about the guilt sacrifece. A guilt offering might be made for unintentional misdeeds or for sins committed on purpose that no one knew about and that the offender had come to regret.
Consider a thief who goes unnoticed, then regrets his actions at home and returns the stolen stuff. If the thief was “caught,” this sacrifice was useless. Then he had to pay the fine for the theft.
It is worth noting that in Leviticus, a food offering, rather than only an animal sacrifice, is mentioned.
Christians frequently refer to Leviticus 16, which deals with the Yom Kippur sacrifice.
The slaughtered goat, however, did not atone for sins. It was intended for sacrifices made in the Temple by someone who was unwittingly not in a state of purity. Then, on Yom Kippur, the Great Day of Atonement, a sacrifice was made on his behalf while he was in a state of purity. As a result, the impure sacrifice is replaced with a pure offering. Just as a thief must ensure that his steal is undone.
How does atonement occur if blood is not always required and does not atone for all sins, such as willful transgressions?
How to do Teshuvah
Returning to G-d is the first step toward atonement and forgiveness of sin. In Hebrew, this is known as Teshuvah. Teshuvah is made up of three components:
- 1. sorrow for wrongdoing
- 2. decision to change
- 3. expressing one’s sins verbally
- 4. charitable giving
G-d forgives a person’s sin if his teshuvah is sincere and he focuses his life towards G-d – by prayer and doing what is right, [a person may opt to add a period of fasting in addition to prayer]. Read the following Tenach passage:
וּבְשׁ֣וּב רָשָׁ֗ע מֵֽרִשְׁעָתוֹ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וַיַּ֥עַשׂ מִשְׁפָּ֖ט וּצְדָקָ֑ה ה֖וּא אֶת־נַפְשׁ֥וֹ יְחַיֶּֽה׃
And if someone wicked turns back from the wickedness that is practiced and does what is just and right, they shall save their life.
Do the right thing and improve your methods.
כִּ֛י חֶ֥סֶד חָפַ֖צְתִּי וְלֹא־זָ֑בַח וְדַ֥עַת אֱלֹקים מֵעֹלֽוֹת׃
For I desire goodness, not sacrifice;
Devotion to G-d, rather than burnt offerings.
What a person can do is donate to charity. See the texts below for further information on how this works as an atonement for sin. Our wrongdoings are frequently the result of giving in to physical or material wants. Giving charity demonstrates our desire to do the opposite and use the material for spiritual reasons.
לֹֽא־י֭וֹעִילוּ אוֹצְר֣וֹת רֶ֑שַׁע וּ֝צְדָקָ֗ה תַּצִּ֥יל מִמָּֽוֶת׃
Ill-gotten wealth is of no avail,
But righteousness saves from death.
לֹא־יוֹעִ֣יל ה֭וֹן בְּי֣וֹם עֶבְרָ֑ה וּ֝צְדָקָ֗ה תַּצִּ֥יל מִמָּֽוֶת׃
Wealth is of no avail on the day of wrath,
But righteousness saves from death.
עֲ֭שֹׂה צְדָקָ֣ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט נִבְחָ֖ר לַד’ מִזָּֽבַח׃
To do what is right and just
Is more desired by the L-rd than sacrifice.
Let us consider a real-life example, King David. With Batsheva, King David sinned. King David did not offer an animal sacrifice, but instead confessed his crimes in prayer with a pure heart, and he was immediately forgiven.
ַיֹּ֤אמֶר דָּוִד֙ אֶל־נָתָ֔ן חָטָ֖אתִי לַד’
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר נָתָ֜ן אֶל־דָּוִ֗ד גַּם־ד’ הֶעֱבִ֥יר חַטָּאתְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תָמֽוּת׃
So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the L-rd.”
And Nathan said to David, “The L-rd has already forgiven your sin; you shall not die.” (Samuel 12:13)
As a result of King David’s brief, passionate confessional prayer, G-d forgives him. This profound, intimate experience profoundly touched him, and this epic occurrence shaped his prophetic message in Psalms 51: 16-19.
Save me from bloodguilt,
O G-d, G-d, my deliverer,
that I may sing forth Your beneficence.
O L-rd, open my lips,
and let my mouth declare Your praise.
You do not want me to bring sacrifices;
You do not desire burnt offerings;
True sacrifice to G-d is a contrite spirit;
G-d, You will not despise
a contrite and crushed heart.
We can see from the preceding that genuine repentance and improvement in one’s life path are more significant than sacrifices. We also observed that G-d directed the Jewish people to offer sacrifices in specified conditions.
What is frequently overlooked is that animal sacrifices were regularly given voluntarily to express gratitude to G-d. Consider Cain and Abel, who presented a thanksgiving sacrifice to G-d for the earth’s crops and lambs. Consider the gratitude offering Noah offered after leaving the ark.
Although most Christians have no objections to killing and eating animals, they believe that voluntarily offering animals to G-d as gratitude is selfish and wasteful. People are frequently unaware of the true motivation for giving a sacrifice.
What is the significance of a sacrifice?
When we search up the term “korban” in Hebrew, we get the word “sacrifice.” This is connected to “draw near”. A sacrifice is not for G-d, but rather for man to draw closer to G-d. The person wishes to approach G-d in thankfulness, and while a person cannot offer anything back to G-d, this was a way of expressing gratitude. One could argue that by igniting something of material worth, man demonstrated his awareness that he had gotten everything from G-d and that he should use this substance for spiritual purposes.
After having sinned and performed Teshuvah, a person wishes to approach G-d to repair the relationship. That G-d forgives is wonderful, but this individual wants to go a step farther; he wants the shattered relationship between G-d and him to be rebuilt as well.
He sees that his longing for the material/animal is what drove him away from G-d, so he presents a material – an animal – as a gift to G-d. The animal burns and smoke rises, representing the desire to better and raise his animal attributes so that his acts are in accordance with G-d’s will.
Today, there are no sacrifices since there is no Temple. And today, performing animal sacrifices makes it impossible to renounce it in this way and use it for a higher purpose. Although theoretical Noahides are permitted to present a full burnt offering, they lack the understanding to do it in a reverent and right manner.
Let us use this month to reconnect with G-d. Let us confess our sins and seek forgiveness. In the future, we will improve our methods. Improve our friendship with our neighbor in order to strengthen our relationship with G-d.
By Angelique Sijbolts
Lets Get Biblical Volume 1, by Rabbi Tovia Singer
All you need is blood? P. 68-75
Tanakh: “Charity atones sins” P. 79
The Jewish Response to Missionaries by By Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
You are My witnesses Rabbi Yisroel C. Blumenthal
Article Aish; Animal Offerings in Temple Times
See also the following related blogs:
Elul and Rosh HaShanah a Month of Reflection
Rosh Hashanah – Measure for Measure?
The Benefit of the Shofar
Selichot Or No Selichot? Thats The Question
Yom Kippur, Repentance, Forgiveness and Noahides
With thanks to Rabbi Tovia Singer and Rabbi Tani Burton for the feedback
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