One friend truly enjoys visiting sick people in the hospital, but can't stand the idea of overnight guests. Another friend cooks tirelessly every week for new mothers but blanches at the notion of entering a house of mourning. One woman thinks nothing of writing $180 dollar checks for charity, another woman must calculate what she will cut back on for the month when she writes an $18 dollar check for a needy family. Which commandments do you find challenging? Which acts do you perform without a second thought? What good deeds seem to require tremendous "sacrifice?"

Which acts do you perform without a second thought? This week commences the first book of Vayikra, Leviticus, which deals primarily with sacrifices. The English word 'sacrifice' seems to stress the sacred aspect of this act, that which is separate from us as humans that we 'give up' to G‑d. The Hebrew word "korbonot" comes from the root k-r-v meaning close and near – rather than focusing on the unreachable and unknowable, the Hebrew stresses the aspect of our service to G‑d which allows us to become closer to the Divine though holy work. When we strive to overcome our inner obstacles which make some mitzvot more difficult, how much more so will we experience this sense of closeness with G‑d.

We usually associate sacrifices with some sort of atonement for sin, whether intentional or accidental. The very first category of sacrifices the Torah describes, however, encompasses those of a voluntary nature, offerings we might bring for the sole purpose of enhancing our personal relationship with the Almighty. These sacrifices go above and beyond our normal obligations as Jews. For the first type of sacrifice in this voluntary category, called an olah in Hebrew, the Torah seems to begin with instructions for the most expensive types of animals such as cows, sheep and goats and then follows with the cheaper birds and fowl.

The Torah then makes an interesting transition in introducing us to the second type of voluntary sacrifice called a mincha, meal offering. It would seem that this offering, consisting entirely of flour, oil, and a little bit of spice, would simply be a continuation of the first category. It is offered in the same way as the more expensive animals, but the ingredients could easily be acquired for little to no money. However, this sacrifice gets its own name and introduction. In fact, the Torah switches from using the most general term for human being, adam, in referring to the olah sacrifice to a term which implies a higher level of humanity incorporating the soul, nefesh.

The amount of physical and spiritual effort that went into this act for this particular person is priceless The rabbis of the Talmud immediately question the unusual wording and separate category for this particular offering: "Why is the meal-offering distinguished in that the expression 'soul' is used? Because G‑d says: 'Who is it that usually brings a meal-offering? It is the poor man. I account it as though he had offered his own soul to Me.'" Although the monetary value of the meal offering can not be compared to that of an animal sacrifice, the amount of physical and spiritual effort that went into this act for this particular person is priceless.

It seems that anyone who could afford an animal, or at the very least a bird, would not consider the meal offering. How could one even think of approaching the altar with a simple mixture of flour and water as others paraded by with their choicest animals? Yet G‑d, in His infinite wisdom and compassion, knows just how significant the meal offering is for those who have no other option. When someone took the time and effort to literally scrape together the ingredients to show their gratitude to G d, it is as if their soul shines through.

In our lives today, what can we consider our own personal mincha, meal offering? Which commandment is so difficult, yet so meaningful, that we are truly offering our soul to G‑d? This answer will not be the same for everyone. When we do something that comes easily to us, we are a person, adam, someone grounded to the earth, adamah. When we overcome our earthly limitations and truly give of our nefesh, soul, we soar to the heavens and transcend the material world.