The Torah defines how a Jew serves, and thereby cleaves to HaShem (Deut. 13:1-6). This goal is achieved through Torah learning and observing the commandments. If a Torah Jew unintentionally neglected these duties, a subjective sense of personal failure, disconnection, and displeasure from Heaven could result. Often one misinterpreted these “feelings” and any negative experiences that followed as “punishment” from Heaven. The nations usually responded to guilt and personal misfortune with fear, believing heaven was angry and exacting punishment, until the gods were appeased. However, the Torah paints a different picture for the Jew (Hosea 14:2-3; Ps.51:16-19; Prov. 21:3).
With most of the commandments of the Torah...if a Jew “unwittingly” or “unintentionally” violated what the Torah prescribes... no punishments were administered from Heaven - for any “unintentional” violation. Instead, the “unintentional” violator was obligated to feel deeply troubled by their “unintentional” error and respond by bringing the appropriate offering to the Temple during the final stages of the atonement process (Numbers 15:27-31). The reasoning behind this is that if the “careless unintentional” sinner had sincerely regarded certain specific commandments with the proper gravity, the violations would not have occurred. As experience teaches, people are careful about things that matter to them, but tend to be careless about trivialities (Leviticus 4:27-28).
So during the atonement process, HaShem used an animal’s life and later its death to achieve His Divine Will in the life of a Torah Jew. This was accomplished within the sacrificial process as the “inadvertent” violator became increasingly aware of HaShem’s loving-kindness through the Temple service.
So how is HaShem's loving-kindness found within the Temple service? Some of the details of this idea are brought out — when digging deeper into the concept of “vicarious atonement” within our Jewish tradition:
OUR SAGES SAY:
“Through the sacrifice one realized that HaShem allowed the life of an animal to be taken as a substitute for the sinner.”
It is vital to understand that the idea of “vicarious atonement” found in the statement above…does NOT center on the death on an animal. Instead, this idea is to be found within the heart and mind of the one offering the sacrifice. For the Torah Jew knows that HaShem does not take pleasure in the death on an animal (Jeremiah 7:22-23; Hosea 6:1-6; Psalm 51:18) nor is a sacrifice to be understood as a means of escaping punishment — or appeasing a “just” and angry G-d, as the nations believed (Deut. 12:29-31; Proverbs 15:81-9; Is. 43:22-28; Amos 5:21-27) . The sacrificial system should NEVER be understood this way.
SOMETIMES I WISH I WERE DEAD
Only an individual who has experienced and expressed heartfelt repentance… understands the REAL purpose within the concept of a “vicarious” sacrifice… and why HaShem would even allow it in the first place. You see…for the Torah Jew, heartfelt repentance created deep sorrow, and the truly repentant would gladly give up their own life for dishonoring HaShem. In other words, true repentance produces a desire to offer "myself" on the altar — upon realizing I misused the life HaShem gave me.
When a Torah Jew truly feels remorse in their process of returning to HaShem (repentance)...we feel undeserving of the gift of life...since we failed to use our life to serve HaShem...and instead - chose to serve ourselves...or other gods…even if done “unintentionally.”
IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE LIVE AND NOT DIE
When experiencing the deep sorrow ALL Torah Jews feel…when failing in our purpose, the Torah strongly prohibits intentionally causing physical injury to oneself in any way (Lev. 19:28; Deut. 14:1). Nor are we to even consider human sacrifice of any kind (Gen. 22; Lev. 18:21; Deut 12; Deut. 18:10). As a result, HaShem provided a way within the atonement process, in which a repentant sinner, could symbolically offer up their “inner most parts” on the altar (Genesis 22; Lev 17:11) without physically harming the pinnacle of creation— the human being (Micah 66-8; Ezekiel 18; Genesis 1:24-31; Genesis 2:7; Psalm 8). The idea that HaShem wants us to LIVE and NOT die… is a central theme in the Hebrew Bible.
“But if a person who violates My Torah… turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all My decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the ones who violate my Torah declares HaShem? Am I not pleased when they turn from their sinful ways... and live?’
During the time of the Temple…within its service- HaShem provided a way by which we could “vicariously” offering up our animal “like” inclinations through symbolically offering ourselves- via the sacrifice of an animal. Thus HaShem allowed us to express - in a physical way, our total repentance and desire to move on from past mistakes…and improve (Psalm 51-18-21; Psalm 84:2-3.)
Through our offerings we thus learn - that even though we fail... and even though we may feel like we want to take our own life...because we momentarily lost sight of our true purpose. We must allow our deep sense of shame and guilt ...to cause us to return to HaShem…through the service of the altar. Thus allowing it teach us - that we must comfort our souls by resting in HaShem's loving-kindness...so that we should LIVE- and NOT die.