Parshat Tetzaveh contains 101 pesukim. Of these, 99 deal primarily with the garments of the Kohanim, and the inauguration service through which Aaron, his sons, and all future generations of Kohanim became confirmed to serve in the holy Sanctuary.

The first two pesukim, however, teach that the oil used for the daily kindling of the Menorah — candelabra — must be absolutely pure without any admixture of foreign sediment.

The Torah does not talk about the harvesting of the olives. However, there is an interesting discussion about it in the Gemara (Menachot 86a). Not all the olives ripen on the tree at the same time. Therefore, there are three times in the year when olives were harvested. Three grades of oil were extracted from each harvest and classified as first oil — superior — second oil — intermediate — and third oil — inferior.

For the first oil harvest one picks the olives at the top of the olive tree. These are the first to ripen since they are the most exposed to the sunlight. The olives are broken open through being pounded in a mortar, and then put into a basket. The oil that then drips by itself from the basket into a container placed beneath it is the “first oil” of the harvest. Then a heavy beam is placed on the olives in the basket and the weight of the beam presses out additional oil. This oil is labeled as “second oil.” Finally, the olives are ground with millstones and again pressed with a beam to extract more oil. This oil is inferior to the previous two grades and is labeled “third oil.”

The first oil is valid for the Menorah and the other two levels of oil are valid for Menachot — meal offerings.

For the second oil harvest one picks the olives at the height of the rooftop. This is the second group to ripen. The process used for the first olive harvest is employed again to produce the second harvest’s grades of oil. As in the case of the first harvest, only the oil that flows from the olives before pressing is “first oil” and valid for use in the Menorah. The two lower grades are fit only for Menachot.

The third harvest consisted of olives that will never fully ripen. They grow on the lower branches of the tree, beneath the roofs of the houses where the sunlight does not reach. A similar process is employed again, and the ‘first oil’ is valid for the Menorah while the others (second and third oils) are fit for Menachot — meal offerings.

The Mishnah (ibid.) explains in detail the laws concerning the various harvests. The first oil of the superior harvest was supreme, and it was used for the kindling of the Menorah. The second oil of the superior harvest and the first oil of the intermediate harvest were equally acceptable for Menachot — meal-offerings. But only the first oil of the intermediate harvest could be used for the Menorah, and not the second oil of the superior harvest. The third oil of the superior harvest and the second oil of the intermediate harvest and the first oil of the inferior harvest were all equal for Menachot, but only the first oil of the inferior harvest could be used for the Menorah.

A question that could be raised about all this is why should the “first oil” of the second and third harvests, which is generally of a lower quality olive, have priority for the kindling of the Menorah over the “second” and “third oil” of the superior olives of the first harvest?

The Halachic reason is that though it may be of a lower quality, it is nevertheless free of impurities — and thus, qualifies as “pure olive oil.” However, my intention here is not to engage in Talmudic discourses, but rather, to elucidate the lesson that you, my dear Bar Mitzvah, can derive from all this.

Not all men are alike. Some have outstanding abilities and some have average ones. King Shlomo says, Neir Hashem nishmat adam — “A man’s soul is the candle of G‑d” (Proverbs 20:27) — and all the details connected with the Menorah contain teachings which apply to a person’s life. The teaching of the different levels of oil is that Hashem does not expect one person to be like another person, but He does expect every person to achieve his utmost. Therefore, if one is capable of being on the highest level, one may not settle for being second. On the other hand, if one is only capable of the second level and one excels in that, his achievement equals that of the one who is uppermost in the first level.

The message to you, my Bar Mitzvah, is that you should always strive to do the best you can. It is not your obligation to compete with or outdo someone. What is incumbent is that you do your maximum. Reaching your potential should be the goal you set for yourself. Don’t settle for less.

The famous tzaddik Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli (1700-1776) once said, “When I come before the Heavenly tribunal, I am not afraid they will demand of me, ‘Why wasn’t Zusha like the patriarch Avraham?’ But I am afraid lest they ask me, ‘Why wasn’t Zusha as Zusha could have been?’ ”

May Hashem help that you reach your potential in the fullest measure and be the Chassid, the yirei Shamayim, and the lamdan you have the potential to be.