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Without sacrifices how do we atone for our sins?

by Rabbi Shalom Hazan

  

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There is a widespread misconception that merely offering a sacrifices attained atonement for sin. As will become evident, this is not the true Jewish Torah-view.

The primary aspect of atonement was, and still is, Teshuvah: regretting and correcting (to the extent possible) the actual wrongdoing.

No matter the punishment or sacrifice, the sin is not atoned until the person first does Teshuvah: regreting his action, resolving never to repeat it, and confessing (i.e. asking forgiveness for) his sin before G-d. Only after these conditions are met, is the sacrifice accepted as an offering on the altar in the Temple, bringing an additional level of atonement.

the sin is not atoned until the person regrets his action, resolving never to repeat it and confesses his sin
That is why one who sins is commanded1 to repent and to confess his sin. Those who are required to bring a sacrifice for their sin, must also confess their sin at that time.2 The requirement of repentance and confession also applied to anyone who received punishment from a Jewish court of law (such as corporeal or capital punishment), as well as to any interpersonal sin, i.e. one committed by man against man (e.g. damaging a person or his property).

Thus even when there is no Temple - may it be rebuilt speedily in our days - there still is Teshuvah, repentance. Teshuvah atones for all sins no matter how grave they may be. Even one who sinned his entire life and repented at the last moment is forgiven and his sins are not mentioned during the Day of Judgment.3

As far as attaining the added level of atonement attained through a sacrifice, see Is there any substitue for the animal offerings which brought atonement?

See also What is the Jewish approach to repentance?

Footnotes

  • 1. Numbers 5:6-7
  • 2. Leviticus 5:5
  • 3. Ezekiel 33:12; Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:3

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Holidays » Yom Kippur » Repentance

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Teshuvah
Repentance. Or, more literally, "return" to G-d. Teshuvah involves regretting the past and making a firm resolution not to repeat the offense.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.