Why is a korban olah – a burnt offering – brought?
Rava explains that it is a gift to God and does not come to effect atonement. The Gemara supports this by quoting abaraita in which Rabbi Shimon teaches that whenever both a hattat – a sin-offering – and an olah need to be brought, thehattat is always brought first. This is like a defense attorney who first appears before the king to argue on his client’s behalf, and only after the offence is forgiven does the client appear with a gift for the king.
Rava’s teaching stands in apparent contradiction to the Gemara on yesterday’s daf (=page), which taught that the olahsacrifice served to atone for mitzvot aseh – positive commandments – that were not performed. There is no punishment in the Torah for neglecting to perform a positive commandment, so the Gemara claimed that this sacrifice served as akaparah – an act of atonement – for it.
In his commentary on the Torah (Sefer Vayikra 1:4) the Ramban explains that when someone intentionally neglects to fulfill a positive commandment, even though there is no punishment, nevertheless there is a break in the relationship between the sinner and God. The korban olah, brought as a gift to God, serves to repair the relationship, and is therefore seen as offering atonement. From Rashi it appears that he believes that simple teshuvah – repentance – suffices to fully erase the sin of neglecting to perform a mitzvat aseh. The intention of the Gemara is to say that the olah sacrifice would allow such a person to be welcomed before God when he desires to approach Him (see a similar use of the termkapparah in Bereshit 32:20 when Yaakov approaches his brother Esav preceded by many gifts).
The olah is usually referred to as a burnt-offering as it is totally consumed on the altar in the Temple.