In this week’s Torah portion, we are given descriptions of the korban mincha and chatas. When describing the meal-offering of the korban mincha, which is intended for the poorer members of klal yisrael, the pasuk states “וְנֶפֶשׁ, כִּי-תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַיהוָה–סֹלֶת, יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ; וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן, וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה. And if a person brings a meal offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil over it and place frankincense upon it.” (Vayikra 2:1). The language of this pasuk is odd. In most pesukim, the individual involved is simply referred to with the pronoun “him”, while here, the word nefesh, the soul of the person, is used. Rashi explains that the word nefesh is used here because the korban mincha is an offering which poorer individuals were more likely to give. Because of this, Hashem says, “I will raise him up as if he has me his soul” due to the amount of sacrifice that the korban entails. Later on, a pasuk uses the same word nefesh to describe individuals who transgress negative commandments unintentionally. It says “דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר–נֶפֶשׁ כִּי-תֶחֱטָא בִשְׁגָגָה מִכֹּל מִצְוֹת יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה; וְעָשָׂה, מֵאַחַת מֵהֵנָּה. Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a person sins unintentionally [by committing one] of all the commandments of the Lord, which may not be committed, and he commits [part] of one of them” (Vayikra 4:2). The Ramban comments here that human thought comes from the soul and when someone commits an act unintentionally, it leaves a blemish on the soul and on the person’s thoughts, which can only be cleansed by bringing a korban.
These two interpretations of the meaning of the word in the context of the korban appear vastly different until we read the Baal HaTurim on the same pasuk as Rashi. He says that the word nefesh is used to describe the meal-offering because when poor individuals give their korban, they are not giving the korban with ease. They are giving up a tremendous amount of themselves. They are donating money and time which they do not have. The Baal HaTurim says that because of this, it is said that the individual is giving a korban with his nefesh, and that therefore, the pasuk uses the word nefesh. The Baal HaTurim is saying that our nefesh is our thoughts and willpower. The nefesh has the ability to transcend human instinct and nature.
This is what Rashi was referring to. The person was giving the korban with his nefesh, with his true willpower. The Ramban’s comment shows that what was lacking in the individual was the nefesh itself. The person was not using his nefesh to guard himself and make sure that he wouldn’t commit the sin. The person offers the chatas to cleanse his thoughts and soul. We can learn from these pesukim a valuable lesson. It may be easy for us to perform the exciting and simple mitzvos and to do them with intensity, but in the end, the ones that Hashem values and treasures are those that require willpower and sacrifice. These situtations truly display our nefesh, our inner nature as individuals. That is why the individual is described as nefesh when he gives the meal offering.