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Holy Week Special : Animal Sacrifices and Forgiveness of Sins

Holy Week Special : Animal Sacrifices and Forgiveness of Sins


By Victor Castelino, Dubai

Dubai, 01 April, 2010: According to the media report, in the month of February 2010, at Donnegudda Durgamma Temple in Kushtagi taluk of Koppal district, devotees sacrificed a number of rams and buffaloes by beheading them and leaving the blood-trickling head near the temple. As per an estimate, about six to seven thousand rams and a thousand buffalos got sacrificed at the temple. People believe that earmarking new-born calf to the Goddess, and sacrificing it to the Goddess after it grows, saves them from the anger of the Goddess. This superstitious practice has been going on year after year at the temple in spite of the efforts of the government to put a stop this practice.


The religious practice of sacrificing animals, birds, grains etc. for forgiveness of sins and to appease the gods is as old as the evolution of human race itself and it will continue until and unless every human being in this world is educated and made aware of the futility of this gruesome act.


In ancient Judaism animal sacrifice was a way of life, so to say, and was mandated in the Holy Scriptures. Book of Leviticus Chapter 16 describes how the sacrifice of all the sacrifices should be performed, namely the Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.


Besides the daily animal sacrifices performed by the priests, there were sacrifices and different kinds of offerings by the general public on various occasions as prescribed by the Book of Leviticus. But the Day of Atonement was special in the sense that only the High Priest was allowed to perform all the rituals on that day and it was described in the Book of Leviticus in minute details. Briefly, in ancient Israel, on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur in Hebrew, the High Priest had to sacrifice as many as seven different animals for different purposes. There were two lambs for the routine daily morning and evening sacrifices; one bull for the sins of the High Priest and his family; two goats – one for the sins of other priests and their families and the other which was used as scapegoat and let loose in the wilderness and never returned to the people, for the sins of all the people of Israel; and two rams for burnt offerings.


On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest in his day long ritual wore five sets of garments, three golden and two sets of white linen, immersed in water five times; and washed his hands and feet ten times. Sacrifices included, besides seven animals mentioned above, grains offering, wine libations and three incense offerings, the regular two daily and an additional one for Day of Atonement. The High Priest entered The Holy of Holies three times. Keeping in mind one of the ten commandments, Thou shall not call God’s name in vain, the name of God was pronounced three times, once for each confession only on this day and by the High Priest alone.


This service was performed by the High Priest alone. Tabernacle was to be emptied of all other inhabitants on this day. The High Priest would be completely alone as he performed those parts of the ritual which took place within the Tabernacle.


This service involved passing within the Veil. The priests were required to minister within the Tabernacle each morning and each evening. But the one thing they were never permitted to do in any of their ministry was to pass beyond the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The one exception to this rule took place on the Day of Atonement. On this day only, the High Priest was permitted to pass beyond the veil into the very presence of God.


On this special day, the High Priest would be clothed in simple linen. The breastplate and the tunic and the gold and the blue and the scarlet would all be put aside. Before he could act as mediator between God and the people, the High Priest first had to offer a bull as atonement for his own sins and for those of his family.


Two goats were then to be taken and presented before the Lord. There was nothing to distinguish them apart. Lots were cast. These lots would determine which goat would live and which would die. The goat on which the lot fell was killed and used as a sin offering. The other goat is referred to as the "scapegoat."
During Moses’ time Aaron was to take this goat and place both his hands upon it as he confessed all of the sins of Israel. The sins of the nation would be identified with the goat and then the goat would be led away into the wilderness, signifying that the sins of the people had been carried away.


After the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, The Day of Atonement was observed but the animal sacrifices stopped because it was told that only in the temple of the most high the sacrifices could be offered. Thus, at present the Jews do not offer animal sacrifices and may not do it in the future. Instead they observe the day as a day of prayer, fasting, abstinence and almsgiving.
In Islam, animal sacrifices are offered on the day of Eid Al Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice). This is done to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac when God wanted to test his faith. It is very important to understand that the sacrifice itself, as practiced by Muslims, has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or using the blood to wash ourselves from sin. It is only a symbol of self negation.


Islam and Christianity both have foundation in Judaism. All these three religions are monotheistic. They all believe in one God. For Christians Jesus is the High Priest par Excellence. He is the one who has taken away the sins of the world. He is the Lamb of God who has shed his blood for mankind once and for all. Therefore, there is no need of having animal sacrifices offered year after year as the Jews did every year on The Day of Atonement. For over a thousand years, this ritual was practiced, first within the Tabernacle and later within the Temple.


The ritual found its fulfillment on a Spring day in the first century A.D. The Romans had set aside three crosses. Three thieves were destined to hang upon those crosses. They had been apprehended, judged, and found to be guilty. They were placed under the sentence of death. But one of those thieves missed his appointment because the Jews wanted him to be set free. He never went to the cross. His name was Barabbas.

 


Another man went to the cross in his place in person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus died upon the cross of Barabbas and Barabbas was set free. The mankind has been set free, too. And it was not because human race was any more deserving. It was a gift of grace.


Jesus Christ before sacrificing himself for the atonement of the sins of humanity on the Cross, instituted a sacrifice that would be performed in His memory. He instituted this sacrifice on Maundy Thursday. “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me’. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. (Luke 21:19-20). The author of the letter to the Hebrews in chapters four through ten explains in detail why the Hebrew Christians should give up the practice of animal sacrifices.


In conclusion, the concept of sacrificing animals to the deity was as primitive as mankind itself and is spread all over the world especially among most of the aboriginal tribes. In some cases even human sacrifices are also reported. Therefore, only education and awareness of the futility of these practices can stop this kind of cruelty to animals, may be after a few centuries! No legislation can be effective as long as people have blind religious faith in them.


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