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Is there any substitute for the animal sacrifices which brought atonement?

by Rabbi Tzvi Shapiro

  

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"And we will render the prayer of our lips in place of the sacrifice of bullocks" - Hosea 14:3

According to the Torah there are two stages to achieving atonement for sins: 1) Personal Teshuvah - i.e. repentance and confession to G-d.1 2) Bringing an animal sacrifice. The former can be done anytime and anywhere, and brings about ample atonement.2 The latter can only be practiced in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and brings about an additional level of atonement.

Thus when the Temple stood a physical animal sacrifice complimented and completed personal Teshuvah. Today, that the Holy Temple is in ruins and we are not permitted to offer animal sacrifices, one still does Teshuvah, only now it is complemented and completed with the spiritual powers of (specific) prayers.

To further substitute for the animal sacrifice (which represented a physical and tangible aspect of Teshuvah) the Sages of the Talmud used to fast. As the Talmud records: "When Rabbi Sheshet kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: 'Master of the Universe, You know full well that in the time when the Temple was standing if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Your will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before You on the altar; please do favor me.'"3

"I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Your will to account my fat and blood... as if I had offered them before You on the altar..."
The great mystic Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Holy Arizal, actually established a detailed fasting regimen for the penitent person to follow. Fasting was a common practice amongst sincere and devout Jews through the middle ages. However, this may not be the best approach for the average person in today's day and age:

In times past, people had stronger physical constitutions; they ate less and were used to living bare-bones, luxury-free lives. Fasting wasn’t considered especially strenuous, and people were able to fast while functioning normally – working, praying, studying, etc. Today, however, regular fasting would interfere with our ability to work, and more importantly, the weakness it causes would disturb our service of G-d. Therefore, left without the ability to bring a sacrifice or to fast, we have one last option for a physical component to Teshuvah: Charity.

Daniel’s advice to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Redeem your sin with charity”,4 is all-important for the penitent person who wants to regain G-d’s favor. Every Jew is obligated to give one tenth of all earnings to charity as a standard component of Jewish law; in addition to that, when there is a need to do Teshuvah one is encouraged to give even more.5 The more charity and the more sacrifice, the greater and more perfect the atonement.

Footnotes

  • 1. Leviticus 5:5, Numbers 5:6
  • 2. Ezekiel 33:11-16. Chronicles II 7:14. Maimonides Laws of Repentance 1:3
  • 3. Talmud tractate Berachot 17a
  • 4. Daniel 4:24
  • 5. Although Jewish law puts the limit on standard charity at 20%, there is no limit on charity given for the purpose of Teshuvah. Much as there is no limit on how much money one can spend to achieve physical health, there is no limit on how much charity one can give to cure spiritual ailments.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

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.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Daniel
1. A Jerusalemite exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the 1st Temple. He interprets dreams, gives accounts of apocalyptic visions, and is divinely delivered from a den of lions. 2. One of the 24 Books of the Bible, which describes the events of Daniel's life.
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.
Arizal
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 15th Century founder of Modern Kabbalah.
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.