Teaching the halachos of korban olah, the Torah concludes by describing it as rei’ach nicho’ach, “a pleasing fragrance.” The same words follow the halachos of bringing a bird as a korban olah. Understandably, wealthy people could afford an animal offering, while others could afford only fowl. Rashi tells us that the Torah describes both korbanos the same way to teach us that “one who gives much is the same as one who gives less, as long as his heart is directed towards Shamayim.”
However, Rashi does not mention that in the pesukim immediately following, where a minchah offering of flour is discussed, the term rei’ach nicho’ach appears as well.
The Maskil L’Dovid explains that it because of a different teaching of Rashi in regard to the flour offering.
The Torah begins the pesukim about this type of offering with the words V’nefesh ki sakriv — “When a soul will bring a meal-offering to Hashem… .” Rashi says that the flour offering is the only voluntary offering for which the word “soul” is used. The reason is that it is generally the poor who offer a minchah, and “Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, ‘I consider it as he offered his soul.’”
The Ribbono Shel Olam considers the offering of the poor man who brings only a bird equal to that of the rich who offers an animal. The flour offering of a minchah, a korban of one who could not even afford a bird, is considered even more worthy in the eyes of Hashem; it is considered as if the poor man offered his very soul!
One explanation for that is that he who brings the flour offering has barely enough to eat. Yet instead of using a bit of flour and oil to make himself some bread, he chooses to fast that day, and instead of eating bring a korban minchah.
Chazal teach us that King Agrippas once decided to bring a thousand animals as korbenos olah. He asked the Kohen Gadol not to bring any other voluntary offerings other than his at that time.
That very day a poor man arrived in the Beis Hamikdash with two birds in hand, asking that they be offered as korbanos. Told that the king had requested that no other voluntary offerings be brought that day, the poor man was devastated. “Every day I catch four birds, two for korbanos and two for my parnassah. My master, the Kohen Gadol,” the poor man pleaded, “if you aren’t makriv these korbanos you are jeopardizing my parnassah.”
The poor man’s argument, “You will be jeopardizing my parnassah,” shows that he knew that it was in the merit of the two birds he brought as a korban each day that he was able to catch another two with which to support himself.
Impressed, the Kohen Gadol agreed to be makriv the birds. That night the King dreamed that the poor man’s birds had “preceded him,” meaning they found greater favor than his thousand animals.
Though we live in a society in which wealth is equated with success and financial prowess bestows prominence while poverty is considered humiliating and degrading, we must rise above such moral blindness and remember that in Shamayim there is a different yardstick. The Torah values and treasures the mesirus nefesh of the poor, and so should we.
A poor man poured out his tale of woe to the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim responded with a parable:
“Two wealthy men were arrested, charged with a serious crime. Their families did everything to prove their innocence, not stinting on the costs involved. By the time the trial date arrived, one of the men was left with only 20,000 rubles to his name and the other with only two thousand. At the trial the latter whispered to the former, ‘You’re better off than I am, since you’re left with ten times what I have; you can start your business again and rebuild your wealth.’
“‘You’re mistaken,’ the friend whispered back. ‘It’s true that you’re left with little money, but your family got the king’s minister to act as your lawyer. I may have more money, but who knows if I will be found innocent?’
“You may not have money,” the Chofetz Chaim told his petitioner, “but Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself is at your side, as it says, ‘For He stands at the right of the destitute, to save him from the condemners of his soul’ (Tehillim 109:31).
“Consider,” the Chofetz Chaim concluded, “which is better? Wealth — or the zechus to have Hakadosh Baruch Hu at your side?”
Chazal (Bava Basra 10a) tell us that an evildoer might argue, “If Hashem loves the poor, why doesn’t He sustain them?” The answer is that they are poor not because they fell into disfavor, but so that through them “we be saved from the judgment of Gehinnom.”
We owe the poor in the community far more than we give them. In addition to saving us from the fires of Gehinnom in the world to come, tzedakah is perhaps the greatest and most reliable segulah for parnassah; as the man with the bird-korban realized, what we give provides the necessary zechuyos for us to have what we need. The poor deserve our respect and our help, graciously given, to lighten their load.