וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר (שְׁמוֹת כז:כ)
“That they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed for illumination” (Exodus 27:30)
The Medrash Tanchuma (3) makes the following comment on this pasuk: “Normally, people use the higher grade of oil (zayis zach) for cooking and the lower grade of oil for lighting. Here, the Torah gave a directive to use the higher quality for lighting, and the lower quality in preparation of the menachos. It is obvious that the Medrash is telling us something sublime.
I’d like to suggest the following.
Our primary concern with food revolves around taste and how it tantalizes the palate, even though we understand that the real purpose of food is to satiate and sustain us. Recently many people have come “back to nature”, and use foods that are considered “healthy” or “natural”, even at the expense of the taste. Yet again, it seems to me they are only pursuing what is important to them: Their choice of healthy foods is a mature conclusion that longevity is a better deal than tasty food.
The Torah, however, tells us that when one searches for “quality”, one must analyze each individual situation to determine what is truly important. When one is reading a book, the quality of the light that is used seems rather insignificant (unless one has an vision problem) as long as one can read the words. In contrast, when lighting a hall for an event, the quality of the light is of essence, independent of whether you can see or not
Hence, when choosing oil for light, the medrash tells us “Choose the higher grade because it makes a difference.” But in regards to food, the more refined the oil is, not only does it not affect the purpose of nutrition, but rather—as science has shown us—detracts from healthy eating. Look at highly refined white flour, which can be used to make a light, fluffy (almost “wondrous”) bread, and compare it to coarse whole wheat flour, which makes a heavy, less-homogenous, bread.
As we forge forward learning about the building of the mishkan, the mashal of how to lead our lives, we learn a lesson that refinement in what we see and look at, is by far more important than focusing on refinement of food.
I think in today’s day and age we all understand the implications of this idea. I would like to add that the idea of “sacrifice” is still applicable today. Perhaps we need to sacrifice in order to have better light, and perhaps we need to sacrifice eating our highly refined (yet very tasty) processed foods and instead heed the Torah’s call on focusing on why we eat.