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).
Many 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 Scriptures.
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 guilt.
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.