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 5:20-26 [English: 6:1-7]; ESV).
people are oppressed by a sense of guilt. Some spend their whole lives
seeking to become free from it. There are those who simply deny the
reality of guilt. But philosophical notions and psychological games
are not going to solve this age-old problem.
Of course there is such a thing as false guilt. We may feel guilty
over something that we need not be. This is one of the reasons why we
need to gain God's perspective on such things by reading the
Besides gaining a healthy sense of right and wrong, the Torah also
teaches us how to properly deal with wrongs as they arise. One aspect
of that is our need to deal with guilt in the sphere in which it
occurred. If we have wronged other people, then we must deal with the
people we wronged. If we have sinned against God, then it is with God
we must deal.
The Torah provides us with a most practical approach in dealing
with our wrongs against other people. When appropriate we need to
return what we have stolen or abused and add twenty percent. Simply
saying sorry, paying fines and/or doing jail terms do not resolve our
But resolving guilt is not simply accomplished through restitution.
What we don't easily recognize is that when we wrong another person,
we are also wronging God. In the passage I read 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? The passage we read refers to the wronging of another person as
unfaithfulness 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,
"Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in
your sight" (Psalm 51:6 [English: 51:4]; ESV). Under the New
Covenant, even though the sacrificial requirements are fulfilled
through the Messiah, like David, we still need to admit our
wrongdoings to God in order to maintain intimate fellowship with him.
We read, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to
forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"
(1 John 1:9 ESV).
Now some may get the impression that reckoning with the spiritual
aspect of wrongdoing is greater than the human aspect. We may think
that if we strongly focus on how we have offended 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 to God.
Both need to be dealt with. It is only as we do both that we can truly
be free from guilt.
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