Zav & Zakhor
For the week of March 19, 2011 / 13 Adar 2 5771
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36;
Devarim / Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34

What Is Sin?

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely - in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby -" (Vayikra / Leviticus 6:1-3; ESV).

This section of the third book of the Torah gives directions regarding what to do when a person did certain wrongs to another person. Notice that in the verses I read, doing such things are considered sins against God and not just against the offended party. The Torah, in this way, puts our behavior into proper perspective. Doing wrong to others badly affects our relationship to God.

Some may think that referencing God with regard to human behavior is simply a way to control a community's behavior. After all the Torah is a religious document. Of course it will reference God with regard to most things. But the God of the Torah is not just an impersonal rule maker. There is no sense that his commandments are designed as behavior modification tools. The Torah's morality is deeply rooted in the reality of a relational God.

God rescued the people of Israel from a horrible situation in Egypt. This redemptive deliverance created a unique eternal bond between the people and God. As a result their lives were to reflect the nature and character of God. Failing to do so constitutes what we call "sin." Sin is not the breaking of an arbitrary rule, but rather it is the denial of or the attempt to destroy an established relationship. Sins are not demerits or mistakes on an exam, where too many can lead to a final mark of "Fail." Rather they are the bad fruit that arise from a state of being out of sync with what was intended to be a most intimate relationship. Justice, equity, respect for property, and honesty are essential aspects of the nature and character of God himself. To ignore these things is to turn one's back on God. To do wrong to others breaks relationship with him, or in other words, it is to sin.

Until we understand that our misdeeds toward each other are first and foremost an affront to the God who made us, we will never effectively deal with them. Philosophy, psychology, and all sorts of religions attempt to resolve human dysfunction, but no amount of self-understanding, personal improvement, mind games, or behavioral techniques will ever resolve our inability to live rightly towards others, not to mention establish and maintain right relationship with our Creator.

It is only as we recognize our misdeeds for what they really are - sins against God - that we can begin to not only know the kind of relationship with God we were designed for, but we will also begin to experience the kind of relationship with each other we so desperately long for.

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