Can one reach atonement even if he does not do teshuva (if he does not repent)?
Although we ordinarily view teshuva as essential for receiving kappara (atonement), nevertheless the Mishna (2b) teaches that for virtually all Torah transgressions a person can receive kappara by means of the se’ir hamishtale’aḥ – the scapegoat that is thrown from the cliff to Azazel as part of the Yom Kippur service (see 16:5-22).
The Gemara on today’s daf asks when the se’ir hamishtale’aḥ applies. If the person did not do teshuva, why should it be effective for him? Would it not be placed in the category of zevaḥ resha’im to’evah (the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination – see Mishle 21:27)? On the other hand, if he did teshuva, then why is Yom Kippur special? A person can repent on any day of the year!
Rabbi Zeira explains that this Mishna follows the ruling of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who taught that the sacrifices brought on Yom Kippur are so powerful that they will effect kappara for all sins, even if the individual is omed be-mardo – if he persists in his rebellion. 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 teshuva.
Rashi explains that according to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi the concept of zevaḥ resha’im to’evah applies all year, but does not apply on Yom Kippur, which has a unique power of atonement. The Torat Ḥayyim points out that the language used by Rabbi Yehuda – that the person is omed be-mardo – indicates that even if he denies the power and holiness of Yom Kippur itself, he will be forgiven nonetheless.