One of the basic components of the korban mincha (meal offering) is the addition of olive oil and the spice levonah. The minchat choteh is listed as one of two exceptions where neither olive oil nor levonah is added (Menachot 5:4). The minchat choteh refers to the sacrifice brought by a poor person who cannot afford to bring an animal offering for a korban chatat to atone for a sin carried out unintentionally6.
In understanding why olive oil and levonah are not offered with the minchat choteh, the Gemara in masechet Sotah (15a) explains since the minchat choteh is brought in response to the commission of a sin, it should not be brought with the same grandeur as a regular mincha offering. The Sefer HaChinnuch (Mitzvah 125) writes that olive oil and levonah are representative of wealth and opulence. Additionally, olive oil is a symbol of pompousness in that it floats above all liquids. Olive oil and levonah are not offered with the minchat choteh as the traits they represent do not reflect the humbled and shamed demeanour that would be expected from someone bringing a minchat choteh.
In contrast to this punitive tone, the Sfat Emet (Parashat Vayikra 5642) discussing the korban mincha in general, presents a positive quality to its offering. The Sfat Emet writes that a mincha offering underscores profound honesty and truth. While the korban mincha may be viewed as inferior to the offering of an animal korban, the recognition of one’s own limitations resonates beyond the type of korban offered. Offering a korban mincha that is honest regarding one’s financial situation while disregarding external influences to bring a more lavish korban, is heralded “as if the person sacrificed himself, which is the highest form of sacrifice”.
This approach of the Sfat Emet may be seen as presenting an important supplementary role to the reasons why olive oil and levonah are not offered with the minchat choteh. While it is important to discipline and express discontent to those who sin by not allowing them to offer olive oil and levonah with their minchat choteh, the offering of a korban mincha in favour of an animal korban is an honest evaluation of one’s character which is critical function in achieving atonement.
Support for this understanding may be found in the Sefer HaChinnuch (mitzvah 95). The Sefer HaChinnuch writes that it is not enough to merely express regret over committing a sin; appropriate actions need to be taken. Offering a korban allows a person to sincerely comprehend the gravity of his actions. The introspection from bringing a minchat choteh can most surely provide the impetus for truly appreciating one’s actions.
6 Ed. note: This option of bringing a minchat choteh is only available for a select few sins. See Vayikra 5:1-14.
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