Can one reach atonement even if he does not do teshuvah (if he does not repent)?
Although we ordinarily view teshuvah as essential for receiving kapparah (atonement), nevertheless the Mishnah (2b) teaches that for virtually all Torah transgressions a person can receive kappara by means of the se’ir hamishtale’ah – the scapegoat that is thrown from the cliff to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service (see Vayikra 16:5-22).
The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) asks when the se’ir hamishtale’ah applies. If the person did not do teshuvah, why should it be effective for him? Would it not be placed in the category of zevah resha’im to’evah (the sacrifice of an evildoer is repugnant – see Mishle 21:27)? On the other hand, if he did teshuvah, then why is Yom Kippur special? A person can repent on any day of the year!
Rabbi Zera explains that this Mishnah follows the ruling of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi, who taught that the sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur are so powerful that they will effect kapparah for all sins, even if the individual is omed be-mardo – if he remains rebellious. The only exceptions are sins of throwing off the yoke of Heaven (i.e. denying the existence of God), belittling the Torah and rejecting the commandment of circumcision, which will only be forgiven if the individual does teshuvah.
Rashi explains that according to Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nassi the concept of zevah resha’im to’evah applies all year, but does not apply on Yom Kippur, which has a unique power of atonement. The Torat Hayyim points out that the language used by Rabbi Yehudah – that the person is omed be-mardo (that he remains rebellious) – indicates that even if he denies the power and holiness of Yom Kippur itself, he will be forgiven nonetheless.