By Greg Marzullo
In an almost charming moment in the wilderness, the people of Israel go overboard in a good way. Moses has commanded that everyone bring various items - tanned hides, gems, yarns, oil, spices - in order to create the tabernacle and its glorious surroundings. As soon as word goes out, people come in droves bearing heaps of gifts, until finally the craftsmen take Moses aside and say, "The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do."
Moses tells the crowds, "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary."
When do we actually give so much that we're told to stop?
More commonly, when asked to give, we ignore the asker completely (e.g. a homeless person on the street or one of the hoards of Greenpeace/Planned Parenthood/Save the Children workers outside the Metros). Even on occasions when giving couldn't be simpler (e.g. at the register of Whole Foods where we're spending a paycheck on gluten-free cookies made with organic chia seeds but can't donate a dollar to help women form businesses in underdeveloped nations), we still say "no."
Here, in this beautiful moment of the Torah when the people of Israel are out in the wilderness, they give everything they have, various men and women "whose hearts made them willing to bring anything." They're giving it all up for the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
Yogic thought has a similar idea in that we're constantly asked to renounce all the fruits of our actions, doing everything, instead, for the Divine. Each word we speak, each thing we do becomes a stick of incense, a lit candle or a piece of fruit left at the altar of God. Going one step further, God is living in every person and creature we meet, so now the altar isn't in the temple, but in the world.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, an avatar of God, says to his mortal disciple Arjuna, "Those who possess this wisdom have equal regard for all. They see the same Self in a spiritual aspirant and an outcaste, in an elephant, a cow, and a dog."
Later on, "When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union."
And in an especially beautiful passage: "They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal."
If God exists in all beings, then the Holy of Holies exists within each person, too. The tabernacle is a living, breathing thing that gains in value because we give honor to it, not just through the mouthing of prayers but through giving our all to God.
So, the next time someone asks you for some change, even when you don't have it, be like the Israelites and give whatever you do have: a smile, a conversation, a renewal of the humanity between people and the chance to worship God.