Yesterday, we noted Rashi’s comments to Parashat Vayikra (2:1) regarding the special significance of the mincha – the grain offering, which was generally brought by a needy individual who could not afford an animal sacrifice. The Torah refers to the person offering a mincha with the term “nefesh” (“soul”), and Rashi, based on the Gemara (Menachot 104b), explains that this is term is used to express praise for the pauper who offers his “soul” through his offering.
The common understanding of this remark is that although a mincha is a small, modest offering, it assumes great significance because of the considerable financial sacrifice made by the pauper, who offers a small portion of his limited grain supply to God. However, some have suggested a different reading of the Gemara’s comment. The difference between a pauper’s meager offering and an ordinary person’s large offering lies not necessarily in the level of financial sacrifice entailed (which, as we noted yesterday, might actually be the same in both cases), but rather in the impression it makes. When an ordinary person brings an animal sacrifice, and people see him bringing a large, respectable voluntary offering, he cannot avoid feeling a degree of pride. Even if his decision to bring an offering was motivated primarily by a sincere desire to enhance his relationship with God, it is all but impossible for his motives to be perfectly pure. Almost invariably, his offering will be accompanied by at least a slight tinge of exhibitionism, or gratification over the respect he is earning among his peers and onlookers. Anytime we do something public and exceptional, our altruism is compromised, if only very slightly, by the admiration we receive. And thus even an idealistically-driven animal offering will, in all likelihood, be less than perfectly sincere, given the justifiable pride that the individual feels when others see him bringing the sacrifice.
The pauper, however, does not experience such pride when he brings his small offering of grain and oil to the Beit Ha-mikdash. If anything, he feels embarrassed as he makes his way to the Mikdash with a meager sacrifice, and he needs to muster courage and resolve to overcome these feelings and proceed with his offering. And it is perhaps in this sense that the Gemara says that the pauper offering a mincha is considered as having sacrificed his “nefesh.” This might refer not to the level of sacrifice entailed, but rather to the level of sincerity. The pauper’s mincha offering is pure and genuine, brought without any accompanying ulterior motives. There is no social benefit to this offering, as there is to the larger sacrifices. The pauper brings his offering with pure, untainted sincerity, as he gains no admiration or notoriety through the sacrifice.
If so, then the Gemara’s comment teaches us to strive for this level of pure authenticity in our religious lives. As mentioned, it is all but impossible to avoid the natural, human desire for the respect, admiration and recognition of others. Nevertheless, Chazal’s special praise for the pauper’s meager mincha offering teaches us to aspire to pure sincerity, to direct our efforts towards bringing honor to the Almighty rather than bringing honor to ourselves, and that mitzva observance is about doing the right thing, and not about winning other people’s respect.