Over the course of the many years I have been teaching Torah, the prophets and the writings questions have arisen from those being taught. I endeavor to do my best to answer each one accurately and according to the teachings of HaShem in His Torah given to Moshe Rabbenu and our Sages of blessed memory. I have, to the best of my ability, attempted to relate to the questioner all that I have learned from my own study and from those many Rabbis and other teachers I have come to trust over the decades.
Here is just a sample of some of the kinds of questions that have come to me. Perhaps those reading this have also had some of these questions and will find the answers given here of help in their lives.
This first question, or one similar to it, concerns the sacrifices for sin in the Beit Hamikdash and is the most asked. It comes in varied forms but is one that seems to concern people the most, Jew and Gentile alike, particularly since HaShem’s Temple in Yerushalayim hasn’t been with us for 2000 years. Torah observant Jews are not as troubled by the question as some secular and non-observant but religious Jews and particularly Christians who have one of two agendas: Either they are truly curious as to how we Jews have atonement for our sins since the destruction of the Temple and why we feel we don’t need Jesus or his shed blood as our sacrifice; the other group known as Messianic or Hebrew Christian missionaries like to mishandle the Torah, prophets and writings to say that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin, to quote the author of the Christian letter to the Hebrews (probably written by Paul the Apostate). In this answer I will stick with the actual heart of the question and not deal with the abominable and loathsome concept of a human sacrifice for sin which has been condemned by HaShem over and over again in His word since His giving of Torah on Mount Sinai.
The position on the sin offerings that is given in Leviticus (Vayikra) 5:11 hints to the idea that an ephah of flour could be offered as a guilt and sin offering. How are we to understand this difference? Is it widely accepted that sins can be atoned for without the shedding of blood?
”And if his means do not suffice for two turtledoves or two pigeons, he shall bring as his offering for that of which he is guilty a tenth of an ephah of choice flour for a sin offering; he shall not add oil to it or lay frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering.”
There are many instances in Torah and throughout the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures) where something other than a blood sacrifice is acceptable as a sin offering that will bring atonement; for instance:
In return for the expiation for the sin of taking a census money was a means of atonement: Exodus (Shemot) 30:16
”You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before Adonai, as expiation for your persons.”
Precious metals such as jewels, precious stones and other metals of value were also acceptable: Numbers (B’midbar) 31:50
”So we have brought as an offering to Adonai such articles of gold as each of us came upon: armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and pendants, that expiation may be made for our persons before Adonai.”
Obedience to Torah is HaShem’s "gold standard” for a sin offering: 1 Samuel 15:22 and Micah 6:6-8
”But Samuel said: ‘Does Adonai delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to His commandments? Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice, compliance than the fat of rams.’”
”With what shall I approach Adonai, do homage to Adonai on high? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Would Adonai be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriads of streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for my sins? He has told you, O man, what is good, and what Adonai requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with the Almighty (it is prudent to serve Adonai);…”
Holy character is more important and acceptable to HaShem than blood sacrifice: Amos 5:22-24; Hosea 6:6 ibid; Proverbs 21:3
”If you offer Me burnt offerings — or your meal offerings — I will not accept them; I will pay no heed to your gifts of failings. Spare Me the sound of your hymns, and let Me not hear the music of your lutes. But let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream.”
”To do what is right and just is more desired by Adonai than sacrifice.”
Teshuvah (repentance) is the first requirement for atonement and literally surpasses the need for blood sacrifice: Isaiah 58:5-7; Jeremiah 36:3 [SEE: Ezekiel 18:3-32; 33:10-20]; [SEE: Jonah 3:5-10]
Repentance is more than just feeling bad about transgressing HaShem’s commandments. That is just one of four rungs on the ladder of turning back. First is recognition of having done the sin, the transgression. Second is the regret over having done so — the feeling bad part but more than just feeling bad which will lead to three; real remorse over having offended Adonai first and then all those who may have been negatively affected by the sinful act of disobedience and finally the all important step of confessing the sin to HaShem and resolving to never repeat the disobedience again — turning away from that sin — returning to Torah observance. This may also entail restitution and seeking the forgiveness of the offended human party, if one exists.
”Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when Adonai is favorable? No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the fires of lawlessness, to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.”
”Perhaps when the House of Judah hear of all the disasters I intend to bring upon them, they will turn back from their wicked ways, and I will pardon their iniquity and their sin.”
”Moreover, if the wicked one repents of all the sins that he committed and keeps all My Laws and does what is just and right, he shall live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions he committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness he has practiced, he shall live. It is My desire that a wicked person shall die?—says Adonai. It is rather that he shall turn back from his ways and live.”
”…’let everyone turn back from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty. Who knows but that Adonai may turn and relent? He may turn back from His wrath, so that we do not perish.’ “Adonai saw what the [the inhabitants of Nineveh) did, how they were turning back from their evil ways. And He renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon them, and did not carry it out.”
Prayer with repentance and obedience to Torah will bring atonement without the need for blood sacrifice: Proverbs 15:8-9
“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Adonai. But the prayer of the upright pleases Him. The way of the wicked is an abomination to Adonai, but He loves him who pursues righteousness.”
Our praises to HaShem from a repentant heart are preferable and acceptable to Him over any kind of blood sacrifices: [See: Psalms 51:15-19; 69:30-33]
”You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings; true sacrifice to Adonai is a contrite spirit; the Almighty, You will not despise a contrite and (crushed) repentant mind.”
”I wil extol Adonai’s Name with song, and exalt Him with praise. That will please Adonai more than oxen, than bulls with horns and hooves.”
Confession of sin to HaShem that comes from a repentant attitude is more acceptable than blood sacrifice: Psalms 32:5; Proverbs 28:13
Then I acknowledged my sin to You; I did not cover up my guilt; I resolved, ‘I will confess my transgressions to Adonai,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
Finally, HaShem, knowing there would come a time when no Temple would be standing and no place for any kind of acceptable blood sacrifice to be made by a Kohanim and Levitical priesthood or Maamad standing watch, stated the following through King Solomon - forever establishing what is of primary importance to Him as it relates to our sin and His means of forgiveness and atonement: 1 Kings 8:46-55
”When they sin against You—for there is no man who does not sin—and You are angry with them and deliver them off to an enemy and their captors carry them off to an enemy land, near and far; and then they take it to their minds (heart) in the land to which they have been carried off, and they repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captors saying: ‘We have sinned, we have acted perversely, we have acted wickedly,’ and they turn back to You with all their heart (thoughts - intentions) and soul (emotions - will), in the land of the enemies who carried them off, and they pray to You in the direction of their land which You gave to their fathers, of the city which You have chosen, and of the House which I built to Your Name — oh, give heed in Your heavenly abode to their prayer and supplication, uphold their cause, and pardon Your people who have sinned against You for all the transgressions that they have committed against You. Grant them mercy in the sight of their captors that they may be merciful to them. For they are Your very own people that You freed from Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace. May Your eyes be open to the supplication of Your servant and supplication of Your people Israel, and may You heed them whenever they call upon You. For You, O L-RD G-D, have set them apart for Yourself from all the peoples of the earth as Your very own, as You promised through Moshe Your servant when You freed our fathers from Egypt.”
I think we can see from all I listed above (and these are just a small smattering of Scriptures, there are countless others for study) that, while HaShem instituted animal-blood sacrifice as one means for the remission of sins (By-the-way, in all but one instance, blood sacrifice was only sufficient for unintentional sins. Nearly all intentional sin, those done by an act of determined will to disobey, must be dealt with through repentance, prayer, fasting, confession, charity, and in many cases, as stated above, restitution. In the case of intentional sins the blood sacrifice is of no avail; it is not Adonai’s method of choice and has severe limitations).
It is very obvious that HaShem's greatest preference is obedience to His commandments, prayer, fasting, confession, charity and restitution pouring forth from a repentant mind and contrite spirit, particularly when there is no Temple in Jerusalem which is the only acceptable place for the blood atonement.