I am often amazed at the different types of olive oil that are available in stores today. There are different levels of purity, acidity; there are dark ones, light ones. Which should you pick? It depends on how you want to use the oil. A lighter variety is often used for cooking, darker for salads. Today we don’t usually think of olive oil as a fuel source for lighting our homes, but pre-electricity it was used extensively in lamps. One would think that we should use an inferior oil for light, reserving the better quality oil for consumption; however, in the beginning of this week’s Parsha, we find that the opposite is true.
The first mitzvah in this Parsha is to take pure olive oil for lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). This must be the purest of the pure, even more pure than today’s extra virgin olive oil (evoo). We are also commanded to use olive oil in the meal offering (made from wheat meal mixed with oil). Interestingly, however, in this sacrifice, the quality needn’t be quite so pure: evoo is sufficient.
Why do we use the better-quality oil for lighting and the lesser for consumption in the Mishkan (and subsequently, in the Holy Temple)?
Rabbi Eliyahu Meir of Kovno offers an answer to our question. There is a difference between doing an action for one’s own benefit or doing something to help others. The meal offering is solely to be eaten, while lighting of the Menorah has the purpose of giving light to the world – influencing others. This is an important lesson for us – when we want to help others learn and grow in their spiritual lives, influencing them for the good, we must be very careful that our true intentions are very pure, just like the lesson we learn from the olive oil in the Menorah.