If we could have an intimate two-way conversation with G-d, one of the first things we would probably ask is: Why did You do it? Why did You create the world?
Philosophers, metaphysicians, and religious leaders have addressed this issue, trying to explain why G-d did what He did. Speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai,1 G-d answered the question. Why did G-d create our world? Because He "desired a dwelling in the lower worlds."2
Well, why did He desire? When one of his followers asked Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi,3 the Rabbi answered: "When it comes to desire, you don't ask why."
The Rabbi wasn't being flippant. We do plenty of things because we have to, and many because we think they are right. We may not mind doing some of these things and may even enjoy doing others, but we don't desire to do them. When we do something because of desire, we usually don't think about why we desire it: we just desire it, and that's enough.
Often this leads to our doing a lot of silly things. After all, we are speaking of doing things without a reason. But there are times when we desire something and that desire is a response to an inner voice. Something inside is telling us that this is right for us, that it's part of what we must do to really be ourselves.
For example, the Book of Samuel tells us of Chanah's prayer for a child.4 Chanah had been childless for many years, and came to the Sanctuary at Shiloh, where she "poured out [her] soul before G-d," praying for a son. Her desire flowed from the very depth of her being.
The same can be said of G-d's "desires." When a particular plane of existence is a product of G-d's thought, that plane of existence comes into being. G-d does not, however, share a deep connection with it. When He desires something, by contrast, the very essence of His Being is involved.
What does G-d desire from our world? That it be "a dwelling" for Him. G-d created the world, because He wanted a home.
A home is where we let loose and are ourselves. We do express ourselves outside our homes as well, but it is not the same. No matter how hard a host tries to make his guests feel comfortable, there are always accepted social conventions, personal reservations, and the like. But when we're at home, it's different. That's where who we really are comes out.5
Our world is G-d's home, the place where His essence is expressed. He is the ultimate of good, and it is in our world that this ultimate goodness will be expressed.
Where is the home that G-d desires? To refer to our Sages' expression, "In the lower worlds." This means our material world, not the spiritual realms. In this material world where G-d is only faintly perceived, He will make His home.
When G-d created the world, He left man the task of "building" the house and "furnishing" it so that it becomes fit to serve as a dwelling for Him. Were the world to have been created complete -- a G-dly dwelling from the outset -- there would have been no concept of "lower worlds." So G-d created a world distinct from Himself -- a frame of reference that does not openly appreciate Him, but which can be perfected.6
Fashioning G-d's dwelling in such a world is man's responsibility. In this way, he becomes G-d's partner in creation7 and earns the most complete form of satisfaction and happiness, the satisfaction that comes from creating and achieving.
Now, it is natural to protest that the world is far from perfect as even a dwelling for man, let alone as a Divine residence. Take a look at what's happening in our inner cities, in the Third World, in Eastern Europe. Is this G-d's dwelling?!
Let's borrow a concept from biology. Gestation refers to the time from conception to birth. Small, uncomplicated forms of life gestate quickly; fruitflies gestate in eleven minutes. As the complexity of the life forms increases, so does the gestation period. For humans, gestation takes nine months.
Ideas also gestate. The more profound and novel the idea, the longer the gestation period. When America declared itself a free country, over 20% of its population were slaves. It was almost 100 years before Lincoln freed the slaves, and another 100 before the civil rights movement made that freedom mean something. Ideas take time to take hold.8
How long has the world been around? That's about the length of the gestation necessary for it to realize its destiny as G-d's dwelling.
Let's go back to the concept of a home. Our Sages say9 that "A person who does not have a home is not a person." Unless a person has a home of his own, there is a certain element of his being that will not be fulfilled. Therefore, every person desires a home. But the desire is not necessarily consciously felt. A person can live 30, 40 years or more without realizing that he wants a home.
We must, however, take note of the inner dynamic at work. Our ordinary wants and "needs" seek immediate gratification, but often the focus is only on the immediate. As time passes, our attention shifts to other targets. Genuine, heartfelt desires, by contrast, can wait years to be realized. Since they are part of our inner beings, there is no rush for them to be expressed. Nevertheless, sooner or later, they will definitely surface and become manifest.
The same concept applies regarding G-d's desire to have a dwelling in this world. This desire is not a response to external pressure or stimulation. G-d ingrained it within existence, making it an inner, self-propelling motivation which brought the world into being, and which is constantly shaping its destiny. Just as with man's desire for a home, the timetable of G-d's desire is flexible. The essence of the matter -- that our world will become G-d's home -- is, by contrast an unchanging truth. Ultimately, it will flourish into complete expression.
Since Redemption will permeate every dimension of existence, every one of us is involved. To illustrate the concept of mutual responsibility, the Chafetz Chayim would tell the following parable: Two people were sitting on a ship. One began digging a hole under his seat. When the other protested, the first person replied, "What's it your business? I paid for this seat."
This is only part of the picture. We are not passengers on a cruise; every one of us is part of the crew. Like it or not, everyone plays a role in shaping the future. Already, as our world matures into a global village, it is becoming clear that what each person does affects everyone and everything.10
We are all either silent or conscious partners to change. As we take the reins in our hands and focus on the essence of why we are here, we can do our part in enabling G-d's desire for a home in our world to be fulfilled.
1. As conveyed to us by the Oral Tradition.
2. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
3. Founder of the Chabad approach to Chassidic life.
4. Ch. 1. See the essay entitled "The Inner Motivation for Prayer," Timeless Patterns of Time (Kehot, N.Y., 1993), Rosh HaShanah, which develops this concept at length.
5. This concept may be difficult for many Americans to understand, because in our society, the concept of home and family is often misunderstood. But this is a topic for another discussion. See "Doesn't Anyone Ever Blush Anymore" by Manis Friedman (Harper Collins), which touches on these issues.
6. One might ask: Why does G-d's dwelling have to be in the lower worlds? Why can He not express His essence in the spiritual realms?
For a reply, ask any architect what he does when he designs a building. He'll tell you that he is seeking to make something new and creative, and simultaneously, functional. These thrusts have their roots in G-d's designing of His dwelling, our world.
Real creativity is rooted in His essence, for it is only He who can create a realm distinct from Him, and in that way, genuinely new. Since G-d's desire expresses His essential self, it follows that it must manifest itself in creation, bringing into being a new frame of reference, one that does not openly appreciate Him.
7. Shabbos 10a.
8. We find a similar concept in Chassidic thought. One of the great Chassidic leaders, Rabbi Shlomo of Radomsk said, "It took one moment for G-d to take the Jews out of Egypt, but it took forty years to take Egypt out of the Jews."
9. Yevamos 63a and commentary of Tosafos; Sefer HaMaamarim 5666 p. 520.
10. In this vein, contemporary sociologists have stated that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is as true a principle in the realm of social science as it is in physics.
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