A public burnt offering in Judaism (Hebrew: קָרְבַּן עוֹלָה, korban Olah) is a form of sacrifice first described of the sacrifices of Noah. As a tribute to G-d, a burnt offering was entirely burnt on the altar. A sacrifice (short for the sacrifice of well-being) was partly burnt and most of it eaten in communion at a sacrificial meal.
During the First and Second Temple periods, the burnt offering was a twice-daily animal sacrifice offered on the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem that was completely consumed by fire.
The Hebrew noun Olah (עֹלָה) occurs 289 times in the Hebrew Bible. It means “that which goes up [in smoke]” It is formed from the active participle of the Hiphil form of the verb Olah (עָלָה), “to cause to ascend.” It was sometimes also called Kalil, an associated word found in Leviticus, meaning “entire”
Its traditional name in English is holocaust and the word Olah has traditionally been translated as “burnt offering
There are several different etymologies given for the term Olah though all agree that it literally translates as (that which) goes up. Some classical rabbis argued that the term referred to the ascent of the mind after making the sacrifice, implying that the sacrifice was for atonement for evil thoughts, while others argued that it was a sacrifice to the highest because it is entirely intended for G-d.
This public sacrifice that was brought twice a day came from public funds, while the Torah allowed individuals who wished to, to donate this type of sacrifice. But the outstanding feature of this type of sacrifice was that no human being derived any physical benefit. Even when performing a positive commandment of the Torah, there always is an element of benefit and pleasure that accrues to the one performing the act.
This type of sacrifice represents the ultimate in human service to the Divine without it being tarnished by personal gain and benefit.
The Bible is aware of the difficulty of separating man from his money on the part of human beings. Physically, spiritually and psychologically, we always have factors that influence us even when we are engaged in doing noble deeds and fulfilling positive commandments.
The Torah comes to channel these factors but not to deny or to pretend that they are not part of the human makeup. As such, we see that in all other types of sacrifices that were offered in the Temple, there was some sort of physical human benefit, whether to the priest who officiated in bringing the sacrifice and even to the donor whose dollars brought the sacrifice to the Temple.
We humans get practice in the necessary restraint that makes us special and not just another form of the animal kingdom. However, the public sacrifices that were to be brought twice daily and would represent the Jewish people to its Creator, were meant to create an aura of altruism that would endow the Jewish public generally and the Temple service particularly with the required measure of holiness and devotion. And this could be achieved only by the constant repetition of offering the sacrifice of the Olah.
Now since you were so patient in leaning about the Olah, a short story about
A Beautiful Talmudic Mind is in order:
After months of negotiation with the authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was finally granted permission to visit Moscow.
He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar looked at the young man and he thought: This fellow doesn’t look like a peasant, so if he is no peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district.
But on the other hand, since he is a Jew, where could he be going? I’m the only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow.
Ahh, wait! Just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don’t need special permission to go to Samvet But why would he travel to Samvet? He is surely going to visit one of the Jewish families there. But how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Aha, only two — the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. But since the Bernsteins are a terrible family, so such a nice looking fellow like him, he must be visiting the Steinbergs.
But why is he going to the Steinbergs in Samvet? The Steinbergs have only daughters, two of them, so maybe he’s their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah Steinberg married a nice lawyer from Budapest, and Esther married a businessman from Zhitomer, so it must be Sarah’s husband. Which means that his name is Alexander Cohen, if I’m not mistaken.
But if he came from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name.
What’s the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? It is Kovacs. But since they allowed him to change his name, he must have special status to change it. What could it be? Must be a doctorate from the University. Nothing less would do.
At this point, therefore, the Talmudic scholar turns to the young man and says, “Excuse me. Do you mind if I open the window, Dr. Kovacs?”
“Not at all,” answered the startled co-passenger. “But how is it that you know my name?”
“Ahhh,” replied the Talmudist, “It was obvious.”