The second Perek of Sefer Vayikra begins with the following Pasuk: “VeNefesh Ki Takriv Korban Minchah LaHahsem Solet Yihyeh Korbano Veyatzak Aleha Shemen Venatan Aleha Levonah,” “When a soul brings a Korban Minchah to Hashem, it should be made of fine flour, and he should pour oil on it and put frankincense on it.” The beginning of this Pasuk seems strange – why does the Torah use the word “Nefesh,” “soul,” to describe the one who offers the Korban to Hashem? Why did it not simply use the more commonly used word “Ish,” “man?”
Rashi explains that the only time the word “Nefesh” is used in place of the word Ish is in context of bringing a Korban Nedavah, an offering of donation. Since the only person that would bring such a cheap Korban was a poor person, Hashem considers his offering of the Korban Minchah on a different level – it is as if the one who offers the Korban actually sacrifices his soul.
However, other commentators take issue with this interpretation of Rashi. Both Maayanah Shel Torah and Talilei Orot quote the Chatam Sofer, who in turn quotes the Baal Hapilaah, who asks a powerful question on Rashi. He asks regarding the case a case of bringing a sacrificial Yonah, a dove, where the cost is less than that of the Korban Minchah (which includes fine flour oil and frankincense), yet the Pesukim that describe that offering don’t use the word “Nefesh” even once!
The Chatam Sofer proceeds to offer his own explanation that sacrificing an animal such as a Yonah is different from bringing a flour offering. The purpose of sacrificing an animal is for the soul of the offering to be offered to Hashem instead of the soul of the sinner. On the other hand, the reason behind a Korban Minchah is radically different; in fact, it cannot be used for atonement purposes. The reason a poor person brings an inanimate object instead of an animal (even a dove, which is less costly than a flour offering) is that he is so poor that he has absolutely no money to spend. The poor person only acquires the oil and flour for the offering from charities, such as Leket, Shichchah, and Pe’ah. He also acquires the Levonah for free, based on an edict of Chazal, which says that Levonah is grown so commonly in Eretz Yisrael that it is Hefker – anyone and everyone may take it (including the goats that graze on it). Therefore, because the pauper is giving all that he can afford, he is truly “donating” his soul. Furthermore, because his Minchah-offering does not atone for his sins, the poor person, in effect, sacrifices his own soul – “Nefesh” – taking his simple offering one step further.