For the week of April 1, 2006 / 3 Nisan 5766
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21 - 44:23


It's Both-And!

The LORD said to Moses: "If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do - when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD , his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD , and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty." (Vayikra / Leviticus 6:1-7)

Many people are oppressed by a sense of guilt. Some spend their whole lives seeking to become free from it. Then there are others who deny its existence. But philosophical notions and psychological games are not going to solve our age-old problem with guilt.

Of course there is such a thing as false guilt. We may feel guilty over something needlessly. This is one of the many reasons why we need to gain God's perspective on things by reading the Scriptures.

Besides gaining a healthy sense of right and wrong, the Torah also teaches us how to deal with our wrongs. One aspect of that is our need to deal with our guilt in the sphere in which it occurred. If we have wronged other people, then we must deal with the people we wronged. If it is God we have wronged, then we must deal with God.

The Torah provides us with practical ways of handling wrongs against other people. When appropriate we need to return what we have stolen or abused and add an additional twenty percent to it. Simply saying sorry is not sufficient, and paying fines to the authorities or doing jail terms are not appropriate.

At the same time guilt is not absolved through restitution alone. What isn't always readily apparent to us is that when we wrong another person, we automatically also wrong God. In the passage quoted we see that not only was restitution to be made to the person wronged, but also a penalty by way of a sacrifice to God was required to be paid.

How does my wronging of another person affect my relationship with God? When we wrong another person, we are being unfaithful to God. To abuse a fellow human being is to turn our back on the Creator of us all.

King David understood the spiritual implications of wrongdoing. When he confessed his sins of adultery and murder he prayed to God:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (Psalm 51:6 [English: 51:4]).

While some may have difficulty understanding why the wronging of another human being has spiritual implications, there are those who might use David's prayer to think that the human aspect is insignificant. They may think that by solely emphasizing how our misdeeds offend God, then everything will be alright. But that is not what the Torah teaches.

When we wrong a fellow human being, we need to see that we have both brought harm to the person as well as created a breach in our relationship with God. It is not either-or, but both-and. And it is only as we make things right with both God and others that we can truly be free from guilt.

This is a revised version of a message originally published the week of March 22, 2003.

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