Lessons From the Korban Olah

Zos Toras Ha’olah (Vayikra 6:2)

A korban olah (elevation-offering), which atones for sinful thoughts, is completely burned on the Altar. On the other hand, a korban chatas (sin-offering), which atones for a sin that a person actually committed, is partially eaten by the kohanim (6:19). This seems counterintuitive. Since doing a sin is worse than only thinking about it, why is the korban chatas more lenient in this regard than the korban olah? Shouldn’t their treatment be reversed, with the sacrifice brought by somebody requiring atonement for an actual transgression completely offered to Hashem and forbidden for human consumption, while the offering of somebody who merely thought about sinning is split between the Kohanim and the Altar?

Harav Shmaryahu Arieli answers based on the teaching of the Gemara (Yoma 29a): Hirhurei aveirah kashim m’aveirah — paradoxical as it may seem, sinful thoughts are considered even worse than actual sins. However, this begs the question: Why, in fact, is this the case?

Harav Arieli answers this question based on the Gemara’s explanation for another seemingly counterintuitive law. The Torah requires a thief who steals an object secretly to repay double the item’s value, whereas an armed robber who brazenly confronts his victim is only obligated to pay the value of the item that he stole. Why is the Torah harsher with the cunning thief who doesn’t interact with his target than with the robber who traumatizes his victim?

The Gemara in Bava Kamma (79b) explains that this is because the undetected thief demonstrates greater fear of other humans, whom he doesn’t want to see him stealing, than he does of Hashem, Whose presence during his crime doesn’t faze him. On the other hand, the bold and unabashed robber shows that he is equally unafraid of Hashem and of people. Because the thief who steals secretly shows such lack of concern for Hashem, he is punished more harshly.

Similarly, Harav Arieli suggests that a person who sins only in the confines of his mind is comparable to the cunning thief, as he demonstrates that he is afraid for other people to see him sinning, but it doesn’t concern him that Hashem is aware of the sins in his mind, while a person who commits a sin is analogous to the robber who openly steals from his victims, as he is equally unafraid of Hashem and of other people who witness his sin. Therefore, just as the cunning thief receives a greater punishment for fearing other people more than Hashem, so, too, must the offering which atones for sinful thoughts be completely burned, in contrast to the sin-offering, which may be partially eaten by the Kohanim.

Parashah Q & A

Q: Parashas Tzav begins with the mitzvah of removing the ashes of the consumed sacrifices from the Altar (6:3-4). Was this mitzvah also performed on Shabbos, and if not, which prohibited labor(s) would be transgressed by doing so?

Q: The Gemara in Brachos (54b) rules that a korban todah (thanksgiving-offering) is brought to express one’s gratitude at being saved from potential danger. Today, in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash, we are unable to bring a korban todah but instead publicly recite a blessing known as Birkas Hagomel. As women were required to bring a korban todah after being saved from danger, are they also required to recite Birkas Hagomel, and if not, why not?


A: Harav Aharon Leib Steinman raises the possibility of three forbidden labors of Shabbos which may be transgressed when performing the mitzvah of removing the ashes. First, collecting the burnt ashes from among those which aren’t yet consumed may be considered borer (selecting). Second, doing so may cause other ashes which are still burning to be extinguished. Third, it is forbidden to carry the ashes outside into the public domain, which the Levite camp was legally considered (Shabbos 96b). However, the Mikdash David writes that according to the Rambam, who maintains that the mitzvah of removing the ashes was performed every day, it was also done on Shabbos.

A: The Magen Avraham suggests that women are lenient because blessings of this type are optional, although the Pri Megadim disagrees. The Halachos Ketanos explains that women are not accustomed to say this blessing because it must be said in the presence of 10 men, which would not be modest. The Knesses Hagedolah writes that women who don’t say the blessing for reasons of modesty are mistaken, as they may say the blessing from the women’s section in the synagogue while 10 men are listening. This is also the opinion of the Aruch Hashulchan, Chayei Adam, and Ben Ish Chai, who all rule that a woman should make this blessing.

Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says that the prevalent custom in Yerushalayim is that women say Birkas Hagomel after giving birth but not on other occasions. The Chazon Ish maintains that women shouldn’t make the blessing. Instead, the first time a woman comes to the synagogue after giving birth, her husband should receive an aliyah. When saying Barchu, he should intend to give thanks to Hashem for his wife’s health, and by answering “Amen,” she should intend to fulfill her obligation to say Birkas Hagomel.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.