Yesterday, we noted Rashi’s comments, based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 3:5), regarding the olat ha-of – the bird sacrifice which would be offered by a poor person who could not afford an animal sacrifice. The Torah (1:17) requires placing nearly the entire bird on the altar, including the feathers, leading Rashi to ask, “Isn’t there no ordinary person who smells the foul odor of burnt wings and is not repulsed?” Despite the foul odor produced by placing the feathers on the altar, the Torah nevertheless required doing so, because, in Rashi’s words, “the altar will be satiated and glorified by the sacrifice of a poor person.”
The Tolna Rebbe noted that in posing his question, Rashi observes that an “ordinary person” (“hedyot”) would be repulsed. Interestingly, it is not all people that would be disgusted by the stench of burning feathers, but only “ordinary” or simple people. The Tolna Rebbe explained that when a person of stature would smell the odor of a poor person’s bird offering, he would not be repulsed at all. He would pay no heed to the stench, and would experience nothing but joy and satisfaction over the sight of a downtrodden individual making a great sacrifice by offering a bird as a korban. People who truly recognize the value and significance of mitzvot, and have an appreciation for the inestimable worth of every sacrifice that is made for the sake of avodat Hashem, would not react to the smell, and would instead rejoice and marvel over this display of religious commitment.
This insight teaches us about the perspective we must have on the immeasurable value of mitzvot, but also about the need to view other people from a positive, favorable vantage point. When a poor person brings a sacrifice that emits a foul odor, we should focus not on the disagreeable aspect of the sacrifice, but rather on its admirable quality – the heroic devotion displayed by the pauper. It is a sign of cynicism and negativity to react to this sacrifice by complaining about the odor, whereas admiring and marveling at the pauper’s sacrifice is a sign of nobility and refinement. Chazal here teach us to judge and assess people’s actions from a positive viewpoint, to focus our attention on the admirable elements of people’s behavior, rather than on the negative aspects. All people make noble “sacrifices” of one kind or another, but we are also all guilty of unbecoming conduct that creates an “odor,” that invites disapproval and rejection. We are urged to overlook, as much as we can, the “odor” of people’s shortcomings, and to focus our minds on their qualities that we can admire, respect and seek to emulate.