When we get to Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), many people lose interest in the weekly Torah readings that deal with the topic of sacrifices in the Temple that are today substituted for with our prayers. However, before we totally dismiss this topic, there are moral and ethical lessons that we can learn from the text that are also applicable to us today.
One of the offerings mentioned in this weeks parashah is an olah that is brought by someone who has:
Intentionally committed a sin for which the Torah does not prescribe a punishment or
Failed to perform a positive commandment, or
By someone who had sinful thoughts that have not been carried out or
By everyone who ascends to Jerusalem for the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.
Similarly, it may be brought be anyone who wishes to raise his/her spiritual level.
There are various meanings of the korban ‘olah’, a word whose root means going up. According to:
Rashi and Radak, olah means an offering that is completely burned [apparently because it goes up in flames to God].
Ramban, lbn Ezra, and R’ Bachya are of the opinion that the name refers to sinful ideas or thoughts, which come up in a person’s mind or imagination that it atones for.
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch comments that the offering’s name reflects its purpose, which is to raise its owner from the status of sinner; and bring him to a state of spiritual elevation.
Tanchuma (Tzav 1) states that it is called olah because it is superior (higher) than all other offerings [because it is voluntarily brought and is offered on the Altar in its entirety].
I personally like the explanation of Ramban in 2: that it atones for evil thoughts that never came to fruition. This explanation teaches us the power of our thoughts in the worlds and dimensions above that even though they may not have a visible effect they do cause spiritual damage. Let us all fill our minds with holy thoughts of Torah and Mitzvot to leave no room for evil.