After reading this morning’s essay, I was asked by a perceptive reader: Doesn’t the Torah itself say, offer a sacrifice as atonement for a misdeed? For example, Numbers 31:50 states, “we brought the Lord’s offerings…to make atonement [the Hebrew is lekhaper, from the root kh-p-r] for ourselves before the Lord.” Thus, it appears that contrary to what you wrote, the concept of “repentance in mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Bible.

The root kh-p-r occurs 101 times in the Hebrew Bible. Both scholars and rabbis recognize that we do not know the basic meaning of kh-p-r. It is used for “cover up,” as in Genesis 6:14. It forms the basis for the word khaporet, “a covering,” 21 times, as in Exodus 25:18. It means “clean” in places such as Exodus 30:10. It is translated “atone” in verses such as Leviticus 4:20. It is also used for “ransom” thirteen times, as in Exodus 21:30.

The term shuv, “return,” from which the rabbis developed the word “teshuva,” popularly translated today as “repentance,” used often, for example by the prophet Hosea and others, as in Hosea 14:2, “Return Israel to the Lord your God,” does not mean “repent your sins,” as many believe, but the prophet was saying in 14:2, as he said frequently in earlier chapters, “return” to the proper worship of God, don’t worship idols or fetishes.

Additionally, and significantly, to address the question directly, the rabbis emphasized that sacrifices do not bring repentance or atonement without changes in new proper behavior. The sacrifices were designed to prompt the changed behavior.

So, as previously stated, the Torah does not speak of repentance as it is understood today.