The Question Every One Of Us Would Like To Ask G-d

If any of us could have an intimate two-way conversation with G-d, one of the first things we would ask Him is: Why did He do it? Why did He create this unique collection of beings we call the world? This quandary has challenged mankind throughout the ages. Philosophers, metaphysicists, and religious leaders have addressed themselves to this issue, each one in his own way, trying to play G-d and explain why G-d did what He did.

On Mount Sinai, when Moses had an extended conversation with G-d, G-d answered this question. For approximately 1500 years, this and almost everything else G-d told Moses was transmitted orally from sage to sage [1]. And almost two thousand years ago, this message was written down and communicated for posterity.

Why did G-d make this world? Because He "desired a dwelling in the lower worlds." [2]

Let's take a closer look at this message. He "desired." Well, why did He desire? When one of his followers asked that question to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi [3] the Rabbi answered, "When it comes to desire, you don't ask why."

The Rebbe wasn't merely trying to be humorous. He was trying to direct his follower's attention to one of the most important points about this world we live in, because desire is a unique quality. We do plenty of things because we have to and many things because we think that 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 don't have a reason. We haven't thought about why we desire it, we desire it. That's enough.

For human beings, that often leads to doing a lot of silly things. Because most of things we do that don't make sense are, in truth, pretty stupid. 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 thing is right for us, that it's part of what we must do to really be ourselves.

Let's take an example from the Bible. The Book of Samuel tells us that Chanah had been childless for many years. Each year, she and her husband Elkanah would journey to the Sanctuary at Shiloh. One year, Chanah, embittered at her childless state, left the sacrificial feast, entered the Sanctuary and opened her heart, praying for a son.

Chanah prolonged her prayer before G-d... Only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. And Eli (the High Priest) thought she was drunk.

Eli said to her, "For how long will you be drunk? Put away your wine."

"No, my lord," Chanah answered. "I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink. I have poured out my soul before G-d..." [4]

Eli never regarded Chanah as drunk in the simple sense. Were that the case, he never would have let her finish her prayer, and instead, would have made sure that she be removed from the Sanctuary immediately.

Actually Eli had listened to Chanah's prayer and saw how sincere she was. When he called her drunk, he was speaking figuratively. He did not understand how Chanah - standing before G-d, in as sacred a place as the holy Sanctuary of Shiloh - could think of herself and ask for a son. He considered her drunk, immoderately given over to her personal desires.

And to this Chanah replied, "I am not drunk." I do not want anything for myself. "I poured out my soul before G-d;" my desire comes from the very depths of my being [5].

The same thing is true about G-d's "desires." When we say that a particular plane of existence relates to G-d's thought, that means that He thinks it makes sense, and so that plane of existence comes into being. He does not, however, share a deep connection with it. When He desires something, by contrast, the very essence of His Being is involved.

G-d desires our world. He really wants us, cares about us, and is interested in what happens here.

What does G-d desire from our world? That it be a dwelling for Him. "Dwelling" is a literary term for one of the most common four letter words in the English language: home. G-d created the world, because He wanted a home.

A home is where we can let loose and be ourselves. We can express ourselves outside our homes, but it is not the same. 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 [6].

The world is G-d's home, the place where He lets loose and is Himself.

Where is the home that G-d desires? "In the lower worlds." This means the material world in which we live, and not the spiritual realms. What's the difference? The beings that exist on the spiritual planes of existence have a direct perception of G-d. In our world, by contrast, we have a direct perception of material things. Who sees G-d? Only prophets - whom I know almost none and almost no one else, at least no one else who speaks to me. And yet in this material world where G-d is only perceived, He will make His home.

When we say that G-d's dwelling is going to be in our material world, we mean that its going to be "of the people, by the people, for the people." "Of the people" - that we and all of our world are going to be part of the dwelling. Not only will we live in the dwelling, we will be an actual part of it.

"For the people" - that the dwelling is going to satisfy our needs. Although it's G-d's dwelling, He designed it for us and we will be very happy living there.

"And by the people" - that we will be the ones to fashion it. Man is G-d's partner in creation [7]. G-d created the world, but left man the task of revealing how it is His dwelling. Were the world to have been created as a G-dly dwelling from the outset, that dwelling would not be in the lower worlds. There would have been no concept of "lower worlds," for all existence would reflect His Presence. The idea of a dwelling in the lower worlds is that even a framework of existence which is by nature separate from G-d can serve as His home [8].

And the responsibility for bringing about a transformation is also for man's benefit. Such efforts will grant him the ultimate satisfaction and happiness, the satisfaction that comes from creating and achieving.

By now, I can feel the protests mounting: It's a nice rosy picture, but it's not accurate. The world doesn't look like this. Take a look at what's happening in our inner cities, pay some attention to the famines in Africa, and think about the people shooting each other by the thousands throughout the world. Is this G-d's dwelling?

Yes. But only in the potential stage; only in the Era of the Redemption will it be openly manifest how the world is G-d's home. At present, we are in the midst of the process of shaping that dwelling and revealing its true nature. The problems mentioned above do exist, but they are man-made, and do not express what the world is really like. Why do they exist? Because the same potential G-d invested in us to better the world and make it His dwelling can and will, if not used in the proper way, corrupt and pervert it. But the world can be different and we can make it so.

Let's borrow a concept from biology. Gestation means the amount of time from conception it takes for an organism to grow into a form in which it can emerge into the world at large. Fruit flies gestate in eleven minutes. For most mammals, the process takes several months. For a human being, the gestation period is nine months long, and elephants have the longest gestation period we know, 22 months.

Ideas also gestate. When America declared itself a free country well over twenty percent of its population were slaves. It took almost a hundred years for Lincoln to free the slaves and almost another hundred years for the civil rights movement to translate these principles into reality. Ideas take time to take hold.

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." The more profound and novel the idea, the longer the gestation period. How long has the world been around? That's about the length of the gestation period necessary for it to realize that it's G-d's dwelling. Let's go back to the concept of a home. Our Sages say [9]. 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 thirty, forty years or more without realizing that he wants a home. We must, however, take note of the inner dynamic at work. When we want things because of a conscious decision, we want them immediately, but often only immediately. As time passes, our attention shifts to other targets. Genuine, heartfelt desires, by contrast, can wait years to be fulfilled or even to be realized. Since they are part of our inner beings, there is no rush for them to be expressed. Sooner or later, they will surface and become manifest.

The awareness of these concepts is itself a catalyst which will precipitate change. Consciously or unconsciously, we are striding towards the coming of the Redemption. But taking deliberate action in the direction of Redemption will accelerate the transition. For the key dimension of the Era of the Redemption is the explosion of knowledge that will take place: we will become conscious that the world is G-d's dwelling. And by appreciating these truths on the intellectual level, we will hasten the coming of the time when they will be openly revealed.

Since the revelation of the Era of the 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."

And 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, every one of us is playing a role in shaping the future of the world. And as our world becomes a global village, Einstein's theory of relativity becomes a socio-economic doctrine: What one person does effects the totality of his surrounding environment.

In the present international climate, it is impossible to stand still and maintain the status quo; we are all either silent or conscious partners to change. When we take the reins into our hands and focus on the essence of who we are and what the world really is, G-d's desire for a home in our world will be ready to blossom into fulfillment.


  1. See Maimonides' Introduction to the Mishneh Torah (English Translation, Hilchos Yeshodei HaTorah, Moznaim, N.Y., 1990).
  2. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
  3. Founder of the Chabad approach to Chassidic life.
  4. 1 Shmuel 1:12-17
  5. See the essay "The Inner Motivation for Prayer," Timeless Patterns in Time, Rosh HaShanah, which develops this concept at length.
  6. This concept may be difficult for some Americans to understand, because in our society, the entire conception of home and family is often misunderstood. There are people who do not know what it means to have a home and who feel just as comfortable in other people's homes as in their own. 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.
  7. Shabbos 1Oa and sources cited there.
  8. At this point, someone might ask: Why does G-d's dwelling have to be in the lower worlds? What would be wrong with a dwelling in the spiritual realms?

    For a reply, ask any architect what he is trying to do 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 an entity that is genuinely new. Since G-d's desire expresses His essential self, it follows that it must express itself in creation, bringing into being a new entity, a frame of reference that does not openly appreciate Him.

    Simultaneously, because He is by nature good, the dwelling He creates will be good for its inhabitants. It will offer them tangible benefits of happiness and well-being and also will offer them the opportunity for the ultimate benefit of being G-d's partner in creation as explained.

  9. Yevamos 63a and commentary of Tosafos; Sefer HaMaamarim 5666 p. 520.

    The same concept applies regarding G-d's desire to have a dwelling in this world. Since this desire is part and parcel of the world's makeup. This desire is not a response to external pressure or stimulation. It is an inner self-propelling motivation which brought the world into being, and is constantly shaping its destiny. The timetable, however is flexible. But only the timetable. The essence of the matter, G-d's desire for a home, is an unchanging truth. Ultimately, it will flourish into complete expression.