The Torah in Parashat Tzav (6:18) establishes that the chatat (sin-offering) must be slaughtered in the same place in the Beit Ha-mikdash as the ola (burnt-offering). As the Gemara (Zevachim 48a) explains, this means that the chatat is to be slaughtered on the north side of the altar, the area where the Torah earlier (1:11) requires slaughtering the ola. This verse concludes by describing the chatat as “kodesh kodashim,” and Torat Kohanim interprets this emphasis as indicating that the rule established in this verse applies also to other sacrifices classified as “kodashei kodashim.” Namely, the asham – which is offered for certain transgressions – as well as shalmei tzibur (the special sacrifices brought on Shavuot) must be slaughtered on the northern side of the altar like the ola.
The Gemara in Masekhet Sota (32b) comments that the Torah established this rule – that sin-offerings would be slaughtered at the same location as burnt-offerings – in order to spare a sinner from embarrassment. Somebody seeing an individual with a sacrifice on the northern side of the altar will not know whether the person is offering a voluntary ola sacrifice or an atonement sacrifice, since both kinds of sacrifices are slaughtered in the precise same location. As a result, sinners offering atonement sacrifices will not experience any shame. The Gemara comments that on the basis of this precedent, Chazal instituted that individual prayer should be recited silently, so that people confessing their sins will not suffer embarrassment. Just as the Torah arranged that a person offering an atonement sacrifice will not be identified as such, and thus will not be embarrassed, similarly, the Sages instituted that prayer should be recited in a manner that does not cause one humiliation. Tosafot explain that this is done in order to avoid discouraging people from repenting and seeking atonement for their wrongdoing.
Rav Elimelekh of Lizhensk, in Noam Elimelekh, offers an additional insight into the comparison drawn by the Torah between the voluntary ola sacrifice and the mandatory sin-offerings. Although the ola is brought voluntarily, and is not technically required, the Gemara (Yoma 36a) teaches that it was brought to atone for minor infractions, such as affirmative commands (mitzvot asei) which one neglected to fulfill. According to another view (Vayikra Rabba 7:3), the ola serves as a means of atonement for hirhurei aveira – sinful thoughts. The Torah does not obligate one to being an ola to atone for these wrongs, but rather offers the individual the opportunity to do so. Rav Elimelekh suggests that by requiring that the ola and chatat be slaughtered in the same location, the Torah indicates that we should feel distraught over our minor missteps just as we feel after more grievous sins. The message subtly being conveyed is that although one is not strictly required to bring an ola to atone for these minor transgressions, one should nevertheless regret these mistakes just as he regrets and seeks atonement for more serious violations.
The Noam Elimelekh’s teaching should not to be taken to mean that all religious failings are to be treated equally. Certainly, prioritizing is a critical part of growth and self-improvement, and we must ensure to address our more serious failings before proceeding to the next level and seeking to correct the less grievous flaws in our conduct. However, the Noam Elimelekh warns us against comfortably excusing ourselves for our minor infractions, assuming that we can just forget about them since we have more serious issues to resolve first. Prioritizing more urgent concerns over less urgent concerns is not the same as ignoring the latter altogether in favor of the former. Even as we prioritize our different areas of religious growth, both individually and collectively, we must address and try to correct all our faults and flaws, and not allow the areas of more serious concern to completely overshadow the matters of lesser severity.