The Torah portion Vayikra details various types of korbanos (sacrificial offerings), first relating the laws of voluntary offerings and then of obligatory offerings. Why does the Torah begin with free-will offerings; one would think we’d first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanos that must be brought, and only then of the laws governing voluntary offerings?

The spiritual thoughts of the individual bringing an offering, rather than the offering itself, were always considered to be of primary importance.

Thus our Rabbis say about voluntary offerings:1 “With regard to the [large] burnt offering of cattle, the verse states,2 ‘a pleasing fragrance to G‑d.’ So too with regard to the [puny] burnt offering of a bird the verse states,3 ‘a pleasing fragrance to G‑d’….This teaches us that it matters not whether one gives a lot or a little, as long as his heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.”

The same was true with regard to the intention needed at the time an individual brought a sin offering. As the Ramban writes:4 “When a person brings a sin offering he should realize that he sinned against G‑d … in His kindness, G‑d substituted the animal in his stead.” It is this thought that brings atonement.

In fact, one of the roots of the word karban is kiruv , drawing close, thereby indicating that the service of korbanos involves the drawing of one’s faculties and powers closer to G‑d.5

Since the person’s intent is so crucial, the question arises: Why does the Torah seem to ignore the person’s intent with regard to korbanos ?

The answer lies in the fact that the Torah begins the laws of korbanos with free-will offerings rather than — as one might expect — obligatory offerings. By doing so it indicates that the most crucial aspect is the person’s desire to come closer to G‑d — “his heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.” And this aspect is most important regarding all korbanos , even those that are obligatory.

It can thus be said that all korbanos are to be considered free- will offerings, for at the crux of every offering are the feelings and intent of the individual bringing it.

In point of fact, the intention necessary for bringing korbanos is found within each and every Jew; when an individual brings a free-will offering, these latent intentions are merely revealed for all to see.

Thus, it is not necessary for the Torah to command this intent, for it is found in any case; bringing an offering will automatically reveal a Jew’s innate desire to draw close to G‑d.

The above explains an anomaly regarding korbanos : With regard to a free-will offering the Torah states: “he must offer it of his own free will.”6 In reconciling the seeming contradiction between “he must offer it of his own free will ,”theGemara says:7“He is pressured until he says, ‘I want to [bring the offering].’ ”

The Rambam explains this concept as it applies to a recalcitrant husband’s “free will” issuance of a divorce:8

“Since he [the balking husband] surely wishes to act like a Jew, desiring to perform all the mitzvos and distance himself from sin, and it is but his evil inclination that has latched on to him, therefore, once he has been smitten to the extent that his evil inclination has become weakened and he says ‘I want to [give the divorce],’ he is surely issuing the divorce of his own volition.”

And just as this is so regarding a Jew’s intent while bringing an offering — even when he proclaims “I do not want to bring an offering,” his inner desire is to bring one — so too with regard to all other aspects of his life. A Jew always desires and intends to be one with G‑d, for as the Alter Rebbe states:9 “A Jew neither desires nor is able to sunder himself from G‑dliness.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 9-13.