In case you wondered how Jewish people understand forgiveness, rabbinic Judaism rests primarily on fasting to afflict the soul, and forgiveness to cleanse the soul. Within the famous eighteen blessings of the amidah, the fifth blessing calls for teshuvah, which means “repentance.” This is followed by the sixth blessing of selihah, which is “forgiveness.”
I must say that I believe in fasting and repentance. I also believe in forgiveness. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Bible offers little support for atonement resting upon these actions alone.
The Bible suggests that repentance, fasting, and forgiveness, must typically be accompanied by a sacrifice for sins. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah warned the children of Israel not to waste time fasting for religious satisfaction. He said:
Is such the fast that I have chosen? The day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? (Isa. 58: 5).
God wants more than religious formality. God answered his own question with this exhortation:
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and that ye break every yoke? (Isa 58:6).
He wants us to set the captives free, feed the hungry and live in the service of compassion! God had His mind set on mitzvoth. But even the greatest of good deeds (mitzvoth) were not sufficient without obedience to the sacrificial code.
The presence of the priests in the Temple were an imperative for standard Jewish sacrifices. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest served in his most important capacity.