Much has been written about Rashi’s famous comments to Parashat Vayikra (2:1), based on the Gemara (Menachot 104b), regarding the uniqueness of the mincha offering – the sacrifice brought from grain, as opposed to animals. Rashi writes that the Torah refers to the person bringing a mincha with the term “nefesh” (“soul”), because this offering was generally brought by the poor, who could not afford the more expensive animal sacrifices. Such a person, Rashi writes, is considered as offering his “soul” to God because of the special level of sacrifice entailed.
Among the questions raised regarding this comment is whether Rashi’s assumption – that the mincha was the least costly option among the voluntary sacrifices – is indeed correct. Chatam Sofer cites the Ba’al Ha-hafla’a as noting that one could also choose to offer as a sacrifice a small bird – a dove or pigeon (1:14)– which could be assumed to have cost less than a mincha. After all, the mincha offering included a sizeable portion of flour, as well as olive oil and frankincense, which all together likely cost more than a small bird. We might wonder, then, why the Gemara, as Rashi cites, assumed that the poor would offer mincha sacrifices, and not bird sacrifices.
Chatam Sofer suggests a fascinating answer to this question, postulating that the Gemara speaks here of a pauper who does not even have money for his basic necessities, and relies upon charity for his sustenance. The only access this mendicant pauper has to food is charitable gifts such as leket, shikhecha and pei’a – the portions of agricultural fields which the owners are required to leave for the needy. As this is the pauper’s sole source of sustenance, his only option for offering a sacrifice is a mincha, which he brings from a portion of grain which he collected when taking the produce left by landowners for the poor. He cannot bring a bird offering, because he does not have money to purchase a bird, and so the only sacrifice he can offer is a mincha. For this reason, Chatam Sofer explains, this individual is considered as having sacrificed his soul to God, as he takes a portion of the meager rations he has to eat for the purpose of offering a sacrifice to the Almighty.
This discussion perhaps reminds us of the need to feel grateful for our blessings even in times of hardship. Chatam Sofer here speaks of a mendicant who is forced to collect the gleanings of other people’s crops in order to survive, and yet he still feels moved and inspired to offer a portion of what he has to the Almighty as an expression of his devotion. Generally, people enduring difficult challenges are too embittered and distraught to make altruistic sacrifices, or to recognize and feel grateful for the good things their lives. The situation described by Chatam Sofer, of a pauper who allocates a portion of the grain he received through charity for a sacrifice, showing gratitude for what he has received, should inspire us to recognize and appreciate our blessings even if they at first seem meager, and to be grateful for what we have even in periods of hardship.