Parashat Vayikra begins with the basic laws related to the voluntary ola sacrifice, which would be entirely burnt upon the altar. The final type of ola discussed by the Torah is the olat ha-of – a bird offering, which was typically brought by the poor, who wished to offer a sacrifice but could not afford an animal.
The Torah (1:16-17) requires that after the bird is killed, it must be placed on the altar nearly in its entirety, the only exception being the area containing the bird’s waste. Rashi (1:17), citing the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 3:5), notes the seeming peculiarity in the Torah’s requirement to place the bird’s feathers on the altar together with the rest of the bird. He asks, “Isn’t there no ordinary person who smells the foul odor of burnt wings and is not repulsed?” Placing the entire bird in fire produces a foul odor, and it thus seems strange that the Torah would issue such a command. The reason, Rashi explains, is so that “the altar will be satiated and glorified by the sacrifice of a poor person.” This offering is especially precious because it would be offered by a poor person, who was likely making a considerable financial sacrifice by bringing a bird as an offering to God. Therefore, the entire bird is welcomed on the altar – even the portion that emits a foul odor – given the special quality of this sacrifice.
One of the lessons conveyed by the Midrash’s comment is that we must be prepared to endure a degree of discomfort for the sake of lifting the spirits of a downtrodden person. The interest in showing respect to the poor person offering his small bird as a sacrifice, and in giving him the gratification of seeing the entire bird offered on the altar, warranted the extreme measure of allowing a putrid smell in the Beit Ha-mikdash. The kohanim and the others in the area would be subjected to this foul odor because of the encouragement and satisfaction the pauper would receive knowing that he brought a substantial sacrifice. If the feathers would be removed, the remaining portions of the bird would comprise a very small sacrifice, which would cause the poor individual to feel uneasy and ashamed. In order to protect him from these feelings, the Torah required everyone in the Temple courtyard to endure a foul odor, teaching us that we must be sensitive to people’s feelings even at the expense of our comfort. We are expected to go to great lengths, and even to put ourselves in unpleasant situations, when this is necessary to lift a person’s spirits and bring comfort and succor to an embittered soul.