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removing sins in Judaism

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Rabbi Ari Shvat

Shevat 22, 5782
Question
To whom it may concern, Did the priests, before the temple was destroyed, have the ability to remove sins from the Israelites? Its my understanding that they did so by taking an animal sacrifice...placing their hands on the head of the animal....casting the sins of the Israelites into the animal...and then by slitting the throat of the animal their sins died with the animal. Am I correct? Do you have any Judaic sources to verify? Thank you.
Answer
The sacrifices given by the individual from Israel and performed by the kohanim (priests) removed sins, but only when accompanied by all the steps of repentance: sincerely accept upon himself that he will never do it again; sincerely regret and have deep remorse for what he did; verbalize his sin and sincere regret to God. In addition, if the sin was against a fellow man, he must right the wrong (e.g. return the items or the worth of everything that he stole; apologize to the owners of those stores, or for speaking wrong against a person). This is what's called "viduy" (see Bamidbar/Numbers 5, 7; Joshua 7, 19-20). The sacrifices didn't atone unless the person "returned" to God and man, e.g. Isaiah 1, 11- 14.
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