פרשיות ויקרא and צו both deal with the laws of קרבנות, but ויקרא is more about the “what” and צו is more about the “how”; each paragraph describes the תורה of the קרבן, which in context is best translated “procedure”:
The procedure for a קרבן עולה is pretty straightforward: just burn it:
Cleaning off the ashes takes place the next morning. Not only it is odd for the Torah to deal with maintenance (no mention of removing the ash from the menorah or cleaning the blood from the altar), but here the Torah implies that this is a part of the procedure for bringing an עולה.
There’s a bigger question: why bring an עולה at all? The קרבנות ציבור were עולות, but the parasha is talking about קרבנות יחיד, a personal voluntary offering.
If we want to show our love for ה׳, then we have the קרבן שלמים and the תודה. These קרבנות had a symbolic offering of the visceral fat, but the meat was eaten and shared among the community. ה׳ doesn’t need our meat. עולות are a waste. Last week’s parasha implied that the עולה involved some sort of כפרה:
לכפר on what? We have קרבנות חטאת and אשם for sins. חז״ל were bothered by this:
The עולה is a tool for תשובה. It is the only קרבן that can be correctly translated as “sacrifice”. ה׳ doesn’t need it, we do, to put ourselves in the correct frame of mind to change:
And the Kli Yakar explains why the ashes are such an important part of this, that the expression of “ה׳ accepting our עולות” is “ashing them”:
The flip side is that the ash has to be cleaned away and hauled off. The old me is burned away; I am a new person:
The Maharsha takes this idea, of the קרבן עולה coming as part of תשובה for מחשבה רעה, to explain an obscure pasuk:
עולה של תשובה is generally understood as עֹולָהּ: ”the yoke of repentance“. David by admitting his guilt with Bat Sheva becomes the exemplar of someone who bears the burden of repentance. The Maharha says that’s not what the gemara is talking about; there is no “yoke” of repentance. The Gemara is referring to the עֹולָה of repentance:
David, in this reading, is the exemplar of not hiding behind the letter of the law. He might have been able to argue that he technically did not sin, but instead acknowledged that he was wrong and still required the תשובה inherent in the עולה.
The Kli Yakar explains how this is relevant to us today. We know the famous midrashic understanding of the word תורה in our parasha:
Nowadays we can’t bring קרבנות so we pray and learn, as a sort of substitute:
And we introduce our תפילות with a pasuk from the פרק תהילים dedicated to David’s תשובה: א־דני שפתי תפתח:
Learning about the עולה cannot inspire us as much as the sheer physicality of a burning sacrifice. But it is all we have now, until the בית המקדש is rebuilt, במהרה בימינו.