“I have only been created to serve my Master.”(Ethics of the Fathers)

There was once a newspaper advertisement filled with the words “left right, left right” repeated over and over. At the foot of the page, in bold letters was the question, “But where are you going?” As we sail through life and navigate its choppy seas, we must have our bearings and sense of direction. As long as we know where we are going and what we are doing on this world, we may keep the ship on course.

In the works of Kabbalah, various expositions are presented as to the purpose of creation. The Zohar states that the reason G‑d created the world is “So that we may know Him.” Rabbi Chaim Vital in Etz Chaim writes that “G‑d wished to reveal the complete array and perfection of His powers and deeds.” In this chapter we shall focus on the exposition of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of ChaBaD, who writes in Tanya Ch.36, while quoting from a Midrash, which G‑d created because “G‑d desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds (Dirah BeTachtonim).” It is for this purpose that He created a chain order of worlds, with higher and lower realms, with the purpose of creation specifically in the lowest of all.

Subsequent works of chassidic philosophy analyze every word of this Midrashic statement through the following questions:

1) What is meant by “desire?” Does G‑d have desires? Is He lacking in something that needs to be fulfilled?

2) What exactly is meant by the word “Dirah?” In modern Hebrew, Dirah is used as the word for an apartment. What exactly does this mean that G‑d wants an “apartment” in this world?

3) “BeTachtonim.” The implication is that it is the mission of the inhabitants of the world to create that apartment. How exactly do they do that?

To accomplish the task of creating a dwelling place, one would need to take the material world and elevate and connect it to G‑d. This is the basis of Mitzvah performance. The word Mitzvah, in addition to meaning a commandment, also means a connection. The 613 Mitzvot of the Torah are ways in which we may connect every echelon and aspect of our earthly lives with G‑d. We make G‑d feel at home in our kitchen by observing the Jewish dietary laws. He feels at home in the workplace when we keep the business ethic. He feels at home in the weekly cycle when we keep Shabbat. Dirah BeTachtonim means taking the “physical world,” known as Gashmiut, and permeating it with “spirituality” (Ruchniut) and thereby revealing its G‑dly essence.

The home of a person is not just the four walls, but is also comprised of furniture and fittings. A knowledgeable interior designer will make the home aesthetically pleasant and decorated.

The abode for G‑d must not only be a receptacle for the Divine created by Mitzvah performance, but it must also be filled with Divine Light and Presence. Therefore, Mitzvah performance must be permeated with love and awe of G‑d. When a person does a Mitzvah beautifully with love and joy, the dwelling becomes illuminated with “G‑dliness” (Elokut). The Mitzvah therefore is comprised of two parts—the deed and the “intent” (Kavannah). The deed relates to the physical creation, as the Mitzvah is being done within the material world, and the “intent” relates to the spiritual dimension.

In this respect, the reasons for creation as mentioned in the Zohar—“so that the creations may know Him”—and the Etz Chaim—“in order to reveal the perfection of G‑d’s true powers”—actually complement the ultimate purpose of Dirah BeTachtonim. Although the ultimate creation of the physical world was so that an abode is made within the material dimension, that dwelling must be illuminated with G‑dliness, and that illumination comes through “knowing Him” and “a revelation of His true powers.” To explain: G‑d, being omnipotent, could surely have created the physical world with no intermediary stages and no chain order of creation. However, the Kabbalah reveals that He did make the world in a certain order, first revealing the Or Ein Sof and then the higher realms and finally, concealment after concealment, creating this world. The purpose of creating this Seder Hishtalshlut is so that we may look up that chain of order, and meditate upon the vastness and expanse of the greatness of G‑d, thus inspiring us with a great love and awesome feeling. The net result is that our Mitzvah performance here in this world is permeated with “knowing Him” and with “love” (Ahavah) and “awe” (Yirah), thus illuminating the dwelling.

We may now also focus on the word “desire” used in the Midrash. If there would be a logical reason for the creation, it would make sense that the creation and the creations would feel that they are needed and necessary to fulfill that reason for creation. It is for this purpose that the Midrash introduces the idea of a “desire.” The word “desire” does not introduce any corporeality Above, rather its meaning is to convey that the ultimate reason for creation is a “desire” of G‑d and not because of any logical reason. When we fulfill that desire, it is not because of any egotistical feeling; rather our whole intent is just to fulfill the will of G‑d simply because that is what G‑d wants. Rabbi Schneur Zalman used to say, “Of a desire, one may ask no questions.” He meant that one cannot ask why one desires something for it is beyond logic. So too with creation—G‑d was not lacking anything when He had to create the world. G‑d “desired” to have a Dirah BeTachtonim and gave us the privilege of fulfilling that task. This does not mean that we are fulfilling a meaningless task, for G‑d is the epitome of goodness and it is the nature of a benevolent being to bestow benevolence. The greatest gift G‑d could possibly give us is Himself. He therefore “desired” to create a world in which He could bestow upon us that goodness. It is specifically through the creation of the physical world and the making of a DirahBeTachtonim that the creations can be the recipients of a revelation of G‑d Himself.

The task of making a Dirah BeTachtonim, however, is formidable and not without considerable challenge. We live in a world whose very nature is to emphasize the body and its desires. In the terms of Tanya, the world is full of Kelipot and Sitra Achra. What instrument have we been given to fulfill the task? King Solomon states “The candle of G‑d is the soul of man.” The meaning of the verse is that G‑d sends the soul down to this world to act as a candle that will illuminate the spiritual darkness. Before the soul came down to this world it was, as the Sages describe, “Hewn under the Divine Throne of Glory.” Kabbalistically this means that the soul inhabited the higher worlds. G‑d sends the soul down to this world for the short period of a human lifetime in order to fulfill the purpose of Dirah BeTachtonim. After the soul’s sojourn in this world it returns to its heavenly abode where it is richly rewarded for its work. Our Sages state that all the pleasures of this world do not equal a moment of pleasure in the World to Come.

The Sages call this reward, “basking in the ray of the Shechinah.” It is an experience of G‑dliness far greater than anything one may experience in this world.

For example, the soul may be rewarded by entering the lower Garden of Eden, which is in the world of Yetzirah, or if it merits, it may enter the higher Garden of Eden in the world of Beriah. In each world there is a myriad of levels and each soul is rewarded with a certain measure of Divine revelation commensurate with its efforts in this world.

We could therefore summarize by saying that the purpose of the soul descent is twofold:

a) Through descent into this world the soul may achieve an elevation to a higher level in the Garden of Eden than it had before its descent. This is achieved specifically by being enclothed in a corporeal body in a world full of Kelipot. During that sojourn, the soul longs for its source, rather like a son that has been separated from his father and longs to be reunited. Those feelings of longing create a deep bond between father and son that are experienced once the soul returns to its heavenly abode, and it is those feelings that elevate the soul to a higher level. The descent was therefore for the purpose of ascent. From this perspective, as far as the soul is concerned, this world is only a stepping stone to the World to Come.

b) The soul is in no need of rectification for itself, for the soul is a spark of G‑dliness. However, it is sent down into the world to fulfill the purpose of creation by refining the body and the physical world. This descent is therefore not for the ascent of the soul in the World to Come, rather the soul’s descent is for the purpose of an ascent that will transpire within the body. This ascent achieves the purpose of creation and it is also of great benefit to the soul. In fact the soul can gain something within the body that is greater than any revelation of the World to Come.

To explain: When the soul is removed from the immediate revelations of the Garden of Eden and exposed to a spiritual desert, it makes contact with its deepest quintessential levels which it needs to survive. This may be compared to stories of people who have survived horrific ordeals through drawing upon superhuman resources that they had no idea were in their possession. Similarly, the only power that can transform the material and physical world is Atzmut—the very “essence” of G‑d. It is only the power of Atzmut that can create something from nothing, and it is only the power of Atzmut that can permeate that something with total recognition and cognizance of the nothing from which it was created. The Zohar states that Israel, Torah, and G‑d are One. This means that the Nefesh Elokit, being a part of G‑d, has within it invested the power of Atzmut which can reveal G‑dliness even within a physical world that is diametrically opposed to spirituality.

This is the meaning in the expression of Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “I do not want your Garden of Eden, I do not wish your World to Come—I just want You!” All revelations of the Garden of Eden and the higher worlds do not approach the ultimate connection that one has when fulfilling a Mitzvah in this world. Most commentaries explain that the reward for a Mitzvah is the opportunity to fulfill another Mitzvah. Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained that the reward for the Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself, which is a connection to G‑d. Only when a Mitzvah is fulfilled in this world is there a true connection with Atzmut. It is down here, in a world that is not a receptacle for revealed G‑dliness, that one is revealing the true essence of G‑d.

We also learn from this concept that the dwelling for G‑d must be made by His creations. The intent of G‑d is not that He should create the dwelling by means of revelation from Above, rather His intent was that we create the dwelling despite the fact that we are physical creations and are limited by the body.

We may now understand the words of the Sages in the Ethics of the Fathers. The Mishnah states: “Better one hour of heavenly bliss in the World to Come than all the pleasures of this world” (Avot 4:17). In this sense our world is a mere temporary stepping stone where one may earn a place and seat in the World to Come. It is well worth giving up on fleeting pleasures of this world in face of brilliant revelations of the higher worlds. Yet, however great the rewards of the World to Come, they are not the ultimate purpose of creation, as we are not living for the sake of the afterlife. It is in this vein that the Mishnah states: “Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all of the World to Come.” Although the revelations of the higher spiritual worlds are magnificent and a true reward for the soul’s efforts, the ultimate desire of G‑d is Teshuvah and the good deeds of this world. In truth, when a soul fulfills its mission here in this world making a Dirah BeTachtonim, it causes an elevation in all the higher worlds. Hassidism draws an analogy from a lever. In order to lift a heavy load one must use a lever and lift from the bottom.

Although the lever is placed at the very bottom of the load, it causes even the highest parts of the load to be elevated.

So too when the “lower realms” (Tachtonim) create the “dwelling” (Dirah), they reveal Atzmut in the dwelling, and this causes an elevation in all the higher realms. We may now understand how angels and souls residing in higher worlds are profoundly affected by our actions in this world. The commotion of Mitzvot performed in a world full of Kelipot and Sitra Achra reverberate into those higher realms, causing great joy. It is for this reason that Kaddish, recited in memory of a departed soul, causes elevation for the soul. The departed soul can no longer perform physical Mitzvot in this world, but when the name of G‑d is glorified and magnified by a living relative in this world, the soul is tremendously elevated in the World to Come.

There is a story in the Midrash of a King who entered a land together with various ministers, pageantry, and servants.

Many observers were taken aback by the dazzling presence of the ministers and soldiers. However one smart person in the audience said, “I just want the King.” In this world, we should not be distracted or dazzled by any side attractions of honor or reward even of a spiritual nature. Our only intention should be “I just want the King.” It is a most exhilarating feeling to walk through this world and see all it has to offer yet to know in one’s heart that one is in G‑d’s world. Permeated with such feeling, one displays contempt for any side distraction, and the Torah, which is G‑d’s instruction manual, is one’s guide.

The greatest purpose of the study of Kabbalah and Hassidism is that it catapults the mind, heart, intellect, and emotions to stand face to face with G‑d. One is totally cognizant that He is standing above, filling the entire world, and checking your heart to see if you are serving Him properly. The greatest possible experience for a human being is that connection. It is eternal and truly life giving.