Parashat Vayikra presents the laws regarding the various forms of korban yachid – a sacrifice offered by a private individual, either voluntarily or as required to atone for a misdeed. The individual would formally consecrate the animal by verbally declaring its designation as a sacrifice.
Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, commenting to the beginning of Parashat Vayikra in his Tiferet Shelomo, finds great significance in this preliminary stage of the sacrificial process – the verbal designation of an animal as a sacrifice. He observes that any Jew, regardless of his spiritual stature, is capable of transforming an ordinary animal into an article of sanctity that is then brought upon the altar in the Beit Ha-mikdash as an offering to the Almighty. By merely uttering the words, a person fundamentally transforms an animal into something sacred. This ability granted by the Torah testifies to the latent potential for sanctity within each and every individual. No matter how low people might feel they have fallen, or how disconnected they might feel from God and from religious observance, the Torah teaches that they have the capacity to create sanctity. And if we are capable of transforming an animal into something sacred, the Tiferet Shelomo writes, then we are a fortiori capable of transforming ourselves. The process of sacrificing begins with the verbal consecration specifically to show the individual who seeks atonement or to enhance his connection to God that this is fully attainable – as evidenced by his ability to endow an animal with sanctity.
The Tiferet Shelomo further notes that the animal’s status is fundamentally transformed by force of the individual’s proclamation despite no discernible change in the animal. The animal is no different the moment after the consecration than it was before, yet, from a halakhic standpoint, it is an entirely new entity. Symbolically, this points to the fact that spiritual growth and progress cannot necessarily be felt or discerned. Our efforts to improve and to elevate ourselves will not always produce visible, concrete changes. Often, it appears as though we are running into a brick wall, trying to improve but unable to do so. The Tiferet Shelomo views the process of hakdasha – the verbal consecration of an animal – as a source of assurance that every bit of effort we invest in self-improvement has a significant transformative effect. If the mere utterance of “harei zo ola” (“This is hereby a burnt-offering”) transforms an ordinary animal into an object of sanctity, then we are guaranteed that our sincere efforts to improve ourselves have a drastic impact, regardless of whether or not this impact can be tangibly felt.