Don Isaac Abravanel, sometimes spelled Abarbanel (1437-1508) was a probing and penetrating Jewish thinker, as well as a prolific
Biblical commentator. The subject of sin offerings began in Leviticus 4, and continues in chapter 5. Our
verse discusses the sin offering of a poor man. Given his dearth of cash (he can’t rub two nickels
together), what are his options for atoning for wrongdoing?

“But if his means suffice not for two turtledoves, or two young pigeons,
then he shall bring his offering for that wherein he has sinned, the tenth
part of an ephah of fine flour…”

The Torah, Abravanel notes, pities the poor. Accordingly, if a Jew is so impoverished that he cannot
afford to purchase “two turtledoves, or two young pigeons”, dispensation is forthcoming. “Then he shall
bring his offering for that wherein he has sinned, the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour…”

The Torah grants more financial consideration and leeway to the destitute. “He shall put no oil upon it,
neither shall he put any frankincense thereon, for it is a sin offering.”

Abravanel shares two rationales for the oil and frankincense exemption. One has to do with the fellow’s
financial dire straits, as noted above. God doesn’t want to further strain his dwindling bank account.

The second reason focuses on the sin offering itself. Specifically, the Torah draws a clear distinction
between a sin offering and a meal offering, though both feature fine flour. However, a meal offering is
mixed with oil and frankincense, while a sin offering isn’t.

Our verse is explicit: “It is a sin offering.” Insofar as the poor fellow transgressed and wants to make
amends through a sin offering, it would be inappropriate and misplaced to embellish it by adding lavish
ingredients such as oil and frankincense, giving it the appearance of a meal offering.

Notwithstanding the austerity of a poor man’s sin offering, “the priest shall take his handful of it as the
memorial part thereof, and make it smoke on the altar, upon the offerings of God made by fire. It is a sin

“And the priest shall make atonement for him…and the remnant shall be the priest’s, as the meal
offering.” Just as the priest partook of his share of a meal offering, so too is he entitled to enjoy some of
the poor Jew’s sin offering of fine flour.