Rashi, in his commentary to Parashat Vayikra (2:1), famously notes the Torah’s unique formulation in reference to a person who offers a mincha (meal offering). Unlike in regard to the other voluntary sacrifices, the Torah speaks of a person who chooses to offer a mincha with the term “nefesh” (literally, “soul”). Based on the Gemara in Masekhet Menachot (104b), Rashi explains that this word is used because the mincha offering was usually brought by the underprivileged, who were unable to afford animal sacrifices. A small offering brought by a pauper is especially cherished by God due to the difficult sacrifice this entails, and thus such a person is considered as having offered his “nefesh” – his entire being, to the Almighty.
The Beit Yisrael (Rav Yisrael Alter, the fourth Rebbe of Ger) raised the question of why we should assume that a pauper bringing a grain offering makes a greater sacrifice than somebody else offering an animal sacrifice. Conceivably, a person of average means who offers a bull as a sacrifice could incur an expense proportionally equivalent to that of a poor person bringing a mincha. After all, the animal itself is very costly, and the individual must also travel with his large animal from his home to Jerusalem. Proportional to his income, it is certainly possible that an average person bringing a large animal offering makes no less a financial sacrifice than a needy individual bringing a grain offering.
The Beit Yisrael answered that the difference between the two lies in their feelings of pride in their offering. A person bringing a large sacrifice feels confident that he is doing all he can, volunteering to bring a large, expensive animal as an offering to God. The pauper, by contrast, even if his expenditure is proportionally equivalent to that of the first individual, feels insecure. He knows there is a higher standard which he cannot as yet achieve. He realizes he is doing all he can, but he nevertheless feels some degree of uneasiness and discomfort, knowing that his offering is meager. And it is in this sense, the Beit Yisrael explained, that the pauper’s offering is especially beloved and cherished by God. It is not the sacrifice per se, but rather the feeling of uneasiness and inadequacy that makes his sacrifice precious – because this is precisely what a personal sacrifice is meant to express. The purpose of bringing a sacrifice is not the offering itself, but rather the emotions it reflects – the desire for more, the longing to reach a higher level of commitment and a closer relationship with God. Feelings of pride over one’s sacrifice, to some extent, undermine the sacrifice’s very purpose, as it is meant to express the sentiment that something is missing, that something is not right, that one wishes to achieve more and be better than he currently is. The most precious sacrifices we make are those which are accompanied by genuine humility, a keen awareness of the fact that we can do more, and a sincere desire to do more. Together with our feelings of pride and satisfaction over the sacrifices we make, we must also recognize that there is always more to achieve, and that we should always be reaching higher.