The Torah portion Vayikra discusses 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 that we should first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanos that must be brought, and only then learn about the details of the voluntary offerings.

It is the spiritual thoughts harbored by the individual bringing an offering, rather than the offering itself, that are 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 one’s heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.”

The same was true with regard to the intention of an individual bringing a sin offering. As the Rambam writes:4 “When a person brings a sin offering, he should realize that he has sinned against G‑d… in His kindness, G‑d substituted the animal in his stead.” It is the thought and intention, and not the sacrifice alone, that brings about atonement.

In fact, one of the roots of the word korban is kiruv , drawing close, indicating that korbanos draw one closer to G‑d.5

Since a person’s intent is so crucial to korbanos , the question arises: Why is it that the Torah seems to fail to mention it?

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 of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to G‑d — “his heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.”

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

In fact, the intention required is found within each and every Jew, but when an individual brings a free- will offering, these latent desires are 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 the offering will automatically reveal the Jew’s innate intention of drawing 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” and “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) as follows:8

“Since he (the balking husband) wishes to act like a Jew, desiring to perform all the mitzvos and distance himself from sin, and it is only his evil inclination that has latched onto him, when he is 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 don’t want to,” his inner desire is to bring one, so too with regard to all other aspects of his life — a Jew always desires 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