When someone violates a negative commandment, the Torah offers various punishments when it was done on purpose, and, under certain circumstances, requires a korban hattat – a sin offering – as atonement when it was done by accident. For neglecting to perform most positive commandments we do not find any punishment in the Torah, nor is there any requirement to bring a sacrifice for atonement. Nevertheless, the Sages suggest that the korban olah – the burnt offering – serves to atone for the neglect of a positive commandment.
The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) asks whether this sacrifice would atone even for missing positive commandments after the animal was set aside to be an olah, or is it limited to those transgressions that took place prior to the animal’s consecration. The Gemara explains the question: Is the olah similar to the hattat that only affects transgressions that had already taken place, or should we say that the laws of a hattat are unique in that a single hattat must be brought for every transgression, while the olah offers atonement for all of the times that the individual missed opportunities to perform a positive commandment.
Although the Gemara does not reach a conclusion regarding this question, it is important to help us understand the underlying principles of this korban olah. The korban olah does not serve the identical purpose of the korban hattat. It is not a sacrifice of atonement for a particular sin, rather it serves as a gift to God that repairs a broken or distressed relationship with Him (see this point developed further on tomorrow’s daf). Thus, the olah sacrifice is not connected to a single mitzvah, and it can serve to repair the damage done by neglecting any number of positive commandments.
As Rashi points out, the question in our Gemara does not relate to the time after the olah has already been sacrificed, when it certainly cannot serve to atone for what happened in the past. Still, when the positive commandment was neglected before the sacrifice was actually brought – even if the animal had already been set aside – it is possible that theolah could serve to repair the covenantal relationship even with regard to that transgression.