Our Sages teach, that the burnt-offering is brought to atone for הרהורי עברה: thoughts of transgression, as we read of Iyov(1:5):’He would rise early in the morning, and bring as many burnt-offerings , as the number of them all, for Iyov said to himself: "Perhaps my children have sinned and blasphemed Hashem in their thoughts’. This would he Iyov do all the days.’
Our Sages base their teaching on the admonition of the prophet, Yechezkel (20:33):’As for what enters your mind - it shall not be.’
The Ramban comments:’Since it is a transgression of which only Hashem is aware, therefore it is offered all, to Hashem.’
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin expounds:’The Torah started with the burnt-offering, not because it provides the ‘greatest benefit’ to the altar - it is completely consumed by it - but because ‘the thoughts of transgression are worse than transgression itself’ (Yoma 29.).
‘This is because, whilst actual transgressions ‘harms’ the sinner’s body, thoughts of transgression ‘damage’ his soul. The Torah therefore is first concerned with repairing the damage to the soul.
‘And since it is the soul alone that is harmed by thoughts of transgressions, there is no הנאה: ‘benefit’ to the body in the offering which is brought as atonement - it is consumed completely by the fire of the altar.’
Rav Eliyahu Shlezinger proffers a different explanation.
He first asks:’Since the burnt-offering comes to atone for thoughts of transgression, why for a transgression that was ‘just’ thought - and not acted upon - is the offering completely consumed on the altar, whereas, for inadvertent transgressions - which are actually performed - that the sin-offering which must be brought for atonement, only partly consumed by the fire, AND also partially eaten by the Kohanim?
‘Would we not have expected the opposite, as the sin offering is brought for inadvertent transgressions, even those for which intentional transgression would be punishable by death by the Beit Din, or even the extreme punishment of כרת: eternal excommunication.’
Answers the Rav:’This teaches us the Torah’s perspective on our daily life. It differs in its demands of us in the world of ‘doing’, than in matters of our thoughts.
‘It accepts that, in our daily lives, in the inevitable pursuit our basic needs, man cannot be totally divorced from the physical world.
‘However, his thoughts can - and are required to be - totally in the realm of sanctity; even when he is engaged in his physical pursuits, his thoughts should be that he is only engaged in them, so as to be able to completely serve his Creator. Thereby his physical activities, in themselves, are also service of Hashem.
‘This is why the Torah obligates us to bring the burnt-offering which is completely consumed by the fire of the altar, for thoughts of transgression: to teach us that our thoughts should be completely pure and directed to Hashem.
‘On the other hand, the sin-offering, though brought to atone for actual misdeeds - even very serious ones -is cognizant of the need for man to engage in the physical world, which cannot - by their nature - be completely ‘spiritual’.
‘Nevertheless, it should always be performed with as much kedusha, as possible - just as the Kohanim eat from this offering, in purity.’
Rav Chaim miChernowitz offers a beautiful different view of this offering:’ If one who has transgressed in his thougts, yearns to, from then on, be totally connected to Hashem, and that all his being should be ‘an offering to Hashem, be it in deeds, in his speech, and even in his thoughts, then his burnt-offering atones for the thoughts of transgressions which his desires had caused, previously.
‘His burnt-offering must be תמים:‘unblemished’: to signify that he has taken upon himself henceforth, to be, in the words of the passuk: תמים עם ה׳: whole-heartedly with Hashem.’
Haktav veHakabalah adds:’When this transgressor sees all that is done to his burnt-offering, he should have in mind that all that was done to it, should have, but for the grace of Hashem, been done to him.
‘This should make an indelible impression in his soul, so that, from then on, all his deeds and thoughts should be solely in accordance with Hashem’s Will.
‘As the Abarbanel expounds:To ‘offer’ his whole being, all his desires and thoughts to Hashem, and to accept to offer on the spiritual altar his very being, just as his offering is offered on the altar of the Sanctuary’.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch first notes:’Whilst the term עולה: burnt-offering, is commonly understood to describe something which is totally consumed, no-where in the Torah is it linguistically so understood. Indeed, when we look at the names of the other types of offerings, we do not find that any of them allude to what is done with them.
‘Therefore, it appears to us that the name, in fact, alludes not to something which is completely consumed, but to the exact opposite: it refers to the yearning of the person לעלות: to ascend.
‘It is, in essence, the offering of advancement; the person acknowledges that he needs - and is capable of - ascending towards the ‘real’ good: closeness to Hashem.
‘This is the purport, and purpose, of this offering, as its name implies.’
A final insight from Rav Yechezkel Abramski:’If you want to truly appreciate the standing of man in the eyes of Hashem, contemplate the burn-offering.
‘The demands that Hashem makes are commensurate with each person’s abilities and stature. Therefore, when man is required to make atonement even for his improper thoughts, we obtain a glimpse into man’s standing in Hashem’s eyes.
‘Who would have imagined that a person would be called to account for his thoughts? He would have surely have protested: I am but flesh and blood, and I have no control over that which flows into my mind from the world in which You have placed me!
‘However, when the person sees that he is required to atone even for his improper thoughts, he is given irrefutable proof of his importance in Hashem’s eyes.’
Might we not suggest, that the Torah gives us an allusion to this, by using the title of אדם to describe the person offering a korban.
The Zohar Hakadosh expounds that there are several names used to describe a person, but אדם is the loftiest of them.
Thus, in choosing this appellation for a person offering a korban, it is teaching us of his stature, in Hashem’s eyes.
לרפואת נועםעליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.