With the reading of this Parsha, we begin to learn about the details of Korbanos, sacrifices. If one examines the meaning of the Hebrew word קרבן (Korban), one becomes aware of two issues. First, there is, of course, the element of sacrifice, which is the way the word is usually translated in English. An animal is brought to the Beis HaMikdash, slaughtered, and placed on the Mizbeiach as a substitute for oneself. This expression demonstrates one's devotion to Hashem and shows how one wishes to sacrifice and to give of oneself to Hashem. Many commentators underscore the fact that this is designed to counteract the sinful behavior in those days of those who actually offered human sacrifices.
In addition, however, the word קרבן clearly is meant to reflect a conscious desire to come close (the word קרבן in Hebrew means close) to Hashem and to reach the ideals that the Torah teaches us. One can not truly bring a קרבן and feel unchanged, unhappy or uncomfortable with Hashem. For this reason, so many of the Korbanos are identified with the need for the elements of רצון and שמחה, desirability and joy.
The קרבן, therefore, really has two aims. It must indicate that we are ready to sacrifice all of our possessions and even ourselves to Hashem and to the principles of Judaism. This is indeed how we describe our love to Hashem when we recite in the Shema the phrase "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך," "with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources" (דברים ו':ה'), indicating how far we are prepared to go for Hashem. But the קרבן is more than that; it is a total human expression. One can not live a life of only dedication, sacrifice and total commitment. There must also be an element of feeling close to and comfortable with Hashem and His ways. Chazal tell us that "מה הוא רחום אף אתה רחום, מה הוא גומל חסדים אף אתה גומל חסדים," meaning that just as Hashem is merciful so too must we be merciful, just as Hashem acts kindly, so too must we act kindly. These are intangible elements of the deep but subtle human expression, and they reflect a closeness to Hashem through a desire to be like Him. Hashem legislates the rules and the procedures, but it is our duty to observe the Torah with joy and happiness, and a sense of closeness to Hashem.
It is surely a true equation when Chazal point out that the word "מכם," "from you," used by the Torah to introduce the topic of Korbanos (ויקרא א':ב'), has the numerical equivalent (Gematria) of one hundred, hinting at the need to do what one does 100%. The optimal קרבן is brought when one gives 100% of oneself. The highest level of Yiras Shomayim is attained when one wants to reach Hashem's level of ethical behavior. When we seek to improve our Middos and feel a kinship to Hashem, then we have reached our desired goal.
The story is told of a great Tzaddik who once came into a Beis HaMidrash and asked "וואס מאכט איר," "what are you doing?" or "how are you?" The people all answered that they were making a good living and are quite healthy. The Tzaddik turned to the people and loudly stated "I asked what you were doing, not what Hashem is doing!" We often fool ourselves and think that making a living and having good health are our own deeds and accomplishments. But they are not. They are solely Hashem's handiwork. Our deeds are the Middos Tovos we perform and the great kinship with Hashem and our fellow human beings that we achieve. These are the true human expressions, and they are reflected in the concept of Korbanos.