ה׳ באייר ה׳תשע״ח (April 20, 2018)

Zevahim 7a-b: A Gift for God

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 a baraita in which Rabbi Shimon teaches that whenever both a ḥattat – a sin-offering – and an olah need to be brought, the ḥattat 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 offense 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, which taught that the olah sacrifice 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 a kapara – 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 teshuva – 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 term kapara in 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.

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