Primitive man regarded himself as being in debt to the spirits, as standing in need of redemption. As the savages looked at it, in justice the spirits might have visited much more bad luck upon them. As time passed, this concept developed into the doctrine of sin and salvation. The soul was looked upon as coming into the world under forfeit — original sin. The soul must be ransomed; a scapegoat must be provided. The head-hunter, in addition to practicing the cult of skull worship, was able to provide a substitute for his own life, a scapeman.
This concept has carried forward throughout spiritual history. The Hebrew people were deeply concerned with the concept of sin, forgiveness, repentance, atonement. Atonement in Judaism is the process of causing a transgression to be forgiven or pardoned. The word for atonement – kaphoreth, means: to cover, forgive, be merciful, pardon, purge or reconcile. It refers to the place of atonement or the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. This is where the blood of the animal sacrifice symbolically covered the sin, with the idea of pleasing God. This mercy seat is where the blood of the sacrifice was spilt anciently.
Jews believe that communion with God is necessary for peace and joy and a oneness with Him. Repentance, remembrance of sin, making restitution, forgiveness and love are central to Judaism. In the Amidah prayer the observant Jew prays thrice daily for forgiveness for his imperfections.
The Jewish people saw sin as a Levitical ritual, an act. Sinfulness to them did not include thoughts or rational behaviors. According to Mosaic Law, a reconciliation with God was necessary for forgiveness of sins of all kinds and duration, harm to self or others, or contractual. Following the building of the tabernacle in the desert (Exodus), the Old Testament book Leviticus sets forth the sacrificing of living animals as payment for human transgressions, in order to appease and comfort the god of the Jews – Yahveh. This ancient sacrificial system was a type and shadow of the crucifixion and atonement of Christ.
As soon as the tabernacle in the desert (Exodus) was erected, the book of Leviticus lays out in great detail the methods of sacrificing before the altar of the temple and how the Aaronic priesthood was to preside over these affairs. In Chapter Five, the people are told to confess and make amends for their sins. Further, their forgiveness was to come through trespass offerings. It was the priests who made atonement for sin through the sacrifices purchased and carried out, and their prayers offered on behalf of the sinners and on behalf of Israel. Sins of various levels of commission were atoned for through the sacrificing of two kinds, either blood (animals) or bloodless offerings (grain and wine). The ritual of animal sacrifice also served a social or economic function in those cultures where the edible portions of the animal were distributed among those attending the sacrifice for consumption. The priests made available much of the meat of the slaughtered animals.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, most ritual sacrifice ceased. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar who formulated most of the principles of Jewish worship, maintained that God always held sacrifice inferior to prayer and philosophical meditation.
So atoning for sin – Jewish style – was the precursor for the sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who made the eternal, complete and final total sacrifice of his will, for mankind. The Jewish High Holy day, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), held ten days following each Jewish New Year (Rosh ha Shanah), marks a yearly 10-day repentance allowance for forgiveness of sin through worship, prayer, 25 hours of fasting, intensive prayer and forgiving others any and all sins and trespasses that year and correcting, if possible, our own transgressions. This must be done before the repentant Jew can come before God and ask forgiveness for his/her own sins. We must request pardon. Confession and repentance is essential to receiving God’s forgiveness and being reinstated in His favor.
In Orthodox Jewish congregations during the years of the Temple of Jerusalem, the ritual of Yom Kippur, the final and holiest day of the Jewish year, involved using a male goat without blemish (Lev 23:19) that was sacrificed as a sin offering– released into the desert symbolically carrying the sins of the people after the destruction of the Temple. It is this process of proxy propitiation that signifies the at-one-ment of the Jew with God.
Finally, according to Jewish law, God makes His judgment upon the sinner, evaluating the depth and sincerity of his repentance. The books of life are closed again for another year.
Teshuvah- the Jewish idea of repentance is not related to the Christian doctrine of original sin because they believe all children are born pure. They do not accept that mankind has to pay for the transgressions in the Garden, or that Jesus Christ has done that for mankind. Jews do not accept the doctrine of Adam and Eve’s sinfulness as Christians do. They do accept that Satan was evil and deceived our first parents into violating God’s commands. They accept with Christians that each person is responsible for his/her own sins. He must confess before God and forsake sin, many of which are specifically listed in Torah (Old Testament), and then correct any and all errors made (or remembered).
There is no physical atonement altar anymore, so repentance means having the same opportunity to do the thing sinned, and turning away from it. In this way, we knows we have learned our lesson, grown past the temptations, and are again reconciled with God, renewing our sacred covenants, obeying the commandments. Atonement is achieved. The sinner is clean before God until he sins again.
Confession is essential to religious growth and spiritual progress. The forgiveness of sin by Deity is the renewal of loyalty in our relationship with Him. We as Mormons know that forgiveness is given us through the atonement of Christ if we seek him in humility and true repentance. Our weekly Sacrament service is the final and perfect expression of ancient sacrificial rituals.
We bring a contrite, humble heart and a determination to do our utmost to that meeting and partake of the bread and water, symbols of our taking upon ourselves the responsibility of perfect obedience to God and Christ and our fellows. The atonement of Christ for our sins assures us that if we do our part, we will be at-one-ment with him again.