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As we know, blood sacrifice is a central theme in the Torah, when it comes to the atonement of sins. But today, in an attempt to find a way around the need for the temple and for sacrifices (and especially the sacrifice of the Messiah) certain rabbis claim that even during the time of the Pentateuch it was possible to atone for sins without blood, but with fine flour and money.
See for example the words of Rabbi Daniel Asor: “Forgiveness of sins does not necessarily depend upon blood, but on repentance and on the offering of fine flour, without any blood.” Here he is referring to Leviticus 5:11. Sounds reasonable, right?
Let’s read what the verse actually says: “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering.” (Lev 5:11)
Can flour do the trick?
Superficially, and if we ignore the context of this verse, the commandment does indeed allow those who couldn’t afford to purchase a lamb, kid, pigeon or a turtledove, to sacrifice fine flour instead. How can it be possible that fine flour could substitute for a sin offering? The truth is that the answer is very simple, as we can find in the following verses, verses 12 and 13 (which Rabbi Asor didn’t bother to quote): “And he shall bring it to the priest, and the priest shall take a handful of it as its memorial portion and burn this on the altar, on the LORD’s food offerings; it is a sin offering. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin, which he has committed in any one of these things, and he shall be forgiven. And the remainder shall be for the priest, as in the grain offering.”
According to these verses, the priest should take a handful of the flour, as a reminder, and burn it on the altar, on the Lord’s food offerings (meaning, above the fire which was burning for God). Then, the priest should make atonement for the poor man. Simply put, the priest, as part of his role as a mediator between God and the people of Israel, mixed the flour with the blood of the sacrifices that was already on the altar, and could thus atone for people who couldn’t afford to buy an animal of their own. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that fine flour on its own had the ability to atone for sins, or that the life of the flesh is in fine flour. The poor people could also enjoy the atoning power of the altar, since it was possible to mix the flour they brought with the blood which was already on the altar, so that the flour absorbed the blood, and was then sacrificed. There is not even one verse in the entire Old Testament that implies that flour on its own has any sort of power to atone for sins. Rabbi Asor completely and intentionally took this verse out of its context.
What about money?
Rabbi Asor also quotes Exodus 30:15-16, where it says: “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the LORD’s offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the LORD, so as to make atonement for your lives.” According to the Rabbi, this testifies that sacrifice can be substituted with money for the atonement of sin. But what does the verse really say? Does the Law allow atonement for sins with money? Rabbi Asor intentionally takes this verse too clean out of its context, and completely ignores even the Sages. The term “sin” does not appear at all in these verses and even Jewish scholars have already proved that these verses have nothing to do with atonement for sin, but are related to the ransom for God’s protection.
It’s important to know that this is the only place in the entire Old Testament where the term “atonement money” appears, and the context is not about sin or forgiveness, but actually a census of the people. In Exodus 30:11 it says: “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.” If you recall the census King David initiated on his own in 2 Samuel 24, the census ended with a severe plague. The atonement money was intended to provide protection, and there is no connection with the forgiveness of anyone’s sins.
When Rashi discussed the meaning of Exodus 30:15, he said: “”To atone for your souls” so that you will not be smitten with a plague because of the census.”” In other words, the word “atone” has no connection to atonement for sin. In ‘Siftei Chachamim’, a rabbinical collection of Rashi’s interpretations, Rashi’s meaning was explained:“and not to atone for your sins, as in other atonements in the Law.” Similarly, in Gur Aryeh’s interpretation to Rashi, it says: “this is in regards to three different money offerings, one of them pays for the animal sacrifice, and by that clarifies that the sacrifices are the atoning ones.”
Ransom money is not the same as atonement for sins
Do you understand? The atonement money on its own had nothing to do with forgiveness of sins. But, as Rashi himself said, the money that streamed into the temple financed the work of the priests, and more importantly, the purchasing of sacrifices for the people. The final destination of the money only supports this… with it, sacrifices could be bought that would make the atonement for sins possible.
Like the Sages, other Jewish researchers understood this. Rabbi Hertz for example, wrote in the commentary to Exodus 30 that the term, “to atone for your souls” is an expansion on the meaning of the word “ransom”. Rabbi Hertz explains it this way: “Money paid by the man who is guilty of taking the life of another, under circumstances other than murder.”
Jewish Bible Scholar, Jacob Milgrom, in his interpretation to Numbers 31, wrote: “In God’s eyes, the ransom is a necessary preventative step against a plague that could attack the people due to a census.”
The Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, said the same things over 800 years ago. So even the Sages and other Jewish scholars recognize that this refers to ransom money for protection, and not to atonement for sins, as the Sages say themselves.
But modern rabbis like Rabbi Asor, prefer to twist the Word of God and the Law, in an attempt to confuse you, so that you will not recognize your need in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
The sacrifice of the Messiah cannot be measured with money or flour; the blood of the Messiah is extremely dear, but the good news is that it’s given to us for free, and thanks to it, we can enjoy forgiveness and atonement for our sins.