Leviticus 17:11
Does Blood Atone For sins?

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © April 19, 2018

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To correctly understand Leviticus 17:11 we must examine the context and greater implications of the text in light of what our sages have revealed. Despite common belief, the biblical sacrifices did not of themselves bring forgiveness of sin. Blood is not an essential ingredient of teshuvah, repentance nor of developing a close connection with HaShem. They were objective lessons about the severity of our lack of Torah observance, righteousness, and emunah (active faith).

In biblical times it was common for people to appease the gods through animal and human sacrifices. In Egypt for example the lamb was a primary Egyptian god. HaShem had the Israelites slaughter and eat these so-called gods and even use their blood as decorations. Why? As objective evidence that HaShem is Elohim: the G-d over all so-called gods and Judge over all so-called judges. Neither animal nor human blood was ever needed for forgiveness of human frailty. Blood was a symbolism to teach people to trust Him. Since sacrificial systems were the normal way of appeasing the so-called gods the true G-d used that same system to reveal the higher Truth. As their understanding increased HaShem made it clear through His prophets and sages that blood was never the point.

The majority of our rabbis are of the view that only peace offerings will be made once the Temple is rebuilt, after the red heifer is sacrificed, although there is debate on this. HaShem's mercy is not dependent on slaughtered animals and shed blood. His mercy can not be limited (Deuteronomy 32:39). As explained at Yoma 60a:6:

The Gemara asks: ...why do I need these three verses stated with regard to blood, from which it is derived that the prohibition against misuse of consecrated objects does not apply to the remainder of blood that flows to the Kidron River? The reference is to the three phrases singled out above from the verse: “I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life” (Leviticus 17:11).
Read this carefully. The shed blood of the animals was HaShem's gift to us, not our gift to Him. The sacrificial process taught us the seriousness of our transgressions against HaShem. See this? We did not make the sacrifices to appease HaShem as if He were some sort of blood thirsty pagan deity. Rather, through our obedience HaShem was drawing us toward teshuvah and the desired realization of the effects of our transgressions and lack of emunah. When verses like Leviticus 17:11 are read out of context much confusion and false dogma arises. Of itself blood does nothing spiritually. For this reason HaShem warns:

“What need have I of all your sacrifices?” Says the LORD. “I am sated with burnt offerings of rams, And suet of fatlings, And blood of bulls; And I have no delight In lambs and he-goats. That you come to appear before Me — Who asked that of you? Trample My courts no more; bringing these oblations is futile, Incense is offensive to Me. New moon and sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, asssemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide.
And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime — wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow. “Come, let us reach an understanding, —says the LORD. Although your sins are like crimson, they can turn snow white; Although they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece.”
If, then, you agree and give heed, then you will eat the good things of the earth; but if you refuse and disobey, you will be devoured [by] the sword. For it was the LORD who spoke.
Scriptures like these are very clear. HaShem is not interested in blood sacrifices. He has no needs of such things. Rather, He desires teshuva, repentance. He desires evidence of righteousness and pure heart, not bloody hands. He desires emunah, active faith, not ritual slaughter. He is abundantly clear when He says:
See, then, that I, I am He; There is no god beside Me. I deal death and give life; I wounded and I will heal: None can deliver from My hand.
HaShem requires NO mediation of any kind. He alone forgives as He chooses. When we come to Him with humility and proper teshuva we acknowledge our shortcomings. We bow before the Judge and request His causeless pardon. This 'softens His heart' so to speak and moves Him to display His mercy towards us. The idea that HaShem's hands are tied unless innocent blood is shed denies everything the Torah reveals about His nature. HaShem forgives whom he chooses and withholds forgiveness as He alone chooses. The good news is that it is his desire to bestow grace and mercy upon all of His children.

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