|About Us||Holy Land Sites||Holy Land Tours||Photos||Christian||Community||Travel Tips||Easter 2013|
Tags - forgive
The LORD said, I do forgive, just as you have asked (Numbers 14:20)
In my discussions with Christians, I'm often asked how Jews receive atonement. My response is simple: acknowledgement of sin, confession of sin and cessation of sin, along with asking God for forgiveness. In our prayer liturgy, recited three times a day, we ask God for absolution for the wrongs committed against Him. Confident that God forgives us, we say in our morning prayers: My God! The soul that you have given me is pure.
My soul is the essence of me, and the liturgy teaches that its most fundamental quality is its purity. No matter how I miss the mark in my daily undertakings, every morning I begin with a clean slate.
Of course, a second question usually follows: How can one receive atonement without sacrifice? Isn't blood essential in expiating sin? The Old Testament sacrifices, I'm told, paved the way for the one ultimate (human) Sacrifice. Leviticus describes the sacrificial rites at great length, and some were indeed used to atone for sin. However, one should not think it was believed that sins were somehow magically removed when an animal was slaughtered. We were not "buying off" an angry deity with blood and guts. Rather, the sacrifices were understood as the ritual that symbolically reconnected sinners to God.
The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, derived from the root korav meaning to "come close." The atonement offerings were meant to bring someone who was far away near once again. God does not lack anything, nor does He need our sacrifices. The offerings brought in the Temple were not brought for God's benefit. They were brought for us.
Glancing at the offerings described, many seem to have served the purpose of fines, and many had nothing to do with atonement, such as thanksgiving offerings (Lev. 7:12), peace offerings (Lev.3:1), holiday offerings (Numbers 28-29), and sacrifices associated with the dedication of the Tabernacle and the priesthood (Lev. 8:14). In the Hebrew canon, Israel is certainly concerned with atonement and avoiding sin, but God doesn't approach His chosen nation with an attitude of wrath, or with a demand for atoning sacrifices before interacting with them in a positive way. Abraham, Moses and David seemed to enjoy a relationship with God and even intimacy during their lives, despite being far from perfect.
The prophets took issue with an emphasis on sacrifices. Samuel said: Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22). Hosea echoes the same sentiment; For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (6:6). Amos (5:21) and Isaiah (1:11-14) are even stronger in their protests against sacrifices. However, nothing is stronger than Jeremiah's repudiation (7:21-26).
After the destruction of the Temple, atonement continued by means of confession and subservience, in the spirit of Hoshea 14:3 - Take words with you and return to God; say to Him:May You forgive all iniquity and accept good intentions, and let our lips substitute for bulls. Our sacrifices are by the means of our mouths, similar to what it says in Psalms (51:19): The sacrifice God desires is a contrite human heart.
Jews living in a post-sacrificial age don't see sin everywhere we turn, nor feel personally guilt ridden with respect to the manner in which we live our day-to-day lives. Rather we learn to see God everywhere, to recognize Him as a strong presence in everything we do. Reflection as well as daily prayer and Torah study demonstrate our feelings for God and what we recognize to be our responsibilities to Him.
Blood is not part of the expiation process, but rather a heart and soul subservient to His will.