Is G-d selfish and lacking? Why did G-d desire a Dirah Bretachtonim? Selfishness or selflessness?

  1. Question: [Thursday, 1st Nissan, 5783]

A controversial subject which has been boiling recently amongst different circles is regarding the question of whether G-d needs us and as to the meaning of G-d’s desire to have a dwelling place below? Some attack and claim that saying G-d needs anything is heresy, while others claim that not believing this denies the purpose and reason of creation. In Chassidus, it seems to me that this subject is under some level of confusion as one of its most fundamental concepts is the concept of Dirah Betachtonim, which seems to push the idea that G-d has a need, or a want, to dwell in our world, and that we fulfill this need and want through doing Torah and mitzvot. This seems to say that G-d does have a need. On the other hand, we are meant to believe that G-d is perfect and has no lacking, so what does this all mean and how is it to be properly understood. Also, if indeed we accept that G-d has a need and that’s why He created us, wouldn’t that make Him a very selfish G-d?


There is no contradiction between believing the words of our sages that G-d desires a dwelling place in this world, and as well believing that G-d is perfect and does not lack anything [which of course every Jew must believe and heaven forbid to say otherwise]. This is due to several reasons: 1) Being that G-d is perfect, infinite and all capable, he can choose to make himself lack something if he wishes. Hence, G-d choosing to desire a dwelling place below, not only does not make Him imperfect, but is the expression of his essential perfection to be capable of all. Saying that G-d cannot make himself lack something, would be limiting His capabilities. He can choose to stop lacking what He desired to lack just as he chose to lack it, and hence His perfection always remains. 2) Some people misunderstand that G-d’s desire for a dwelling place below is some selfish, and self-serving, personal lust of G-d, for which He created and so to say enslaved the entire world to worship him and fulfill His personal lusts and passion. This is a mistake in understanding the desire for a Dirah Betachtonim. G-d’s desire to dwell here below in this world is a very selfless desire, as the purpose of this desire is to dwell below in this world together with the Jewish people and give them the ultimate pleasure in basking and enjoying His divine unity. As the sages state, it is the nature of the good to do good [Teva Hatov Liheitiv], and G-d desired to have a dwelling place below in this world, due to His goodness and desire to transfer goodness to creations. Hence, the desire for Dirah Betachtonim is all for our sake and not for the selfish needs of G-d, who is essentially perfect and has no such needs and lackings. It does not come to fulfill some personal lust and passion that G-d has to dwell below, but rather comes to fulfill His desire to quench the passion and pleasure of everyone else. Hence, even after G-d chose to desire a dwelling place below, and hence chose to lack the fulfillment of this chosen desire until it is fulfilled, the lacking is not a selfish difficiency, but a selfless difficiency which is for the purpose of benefiting others. Think of it like this: A wealthy man who desires to make the entire world his subordinates and confiscate their wealth, and enslave the population for his needs and wants, is a mean dictator. This is not G-d! A wealthy man who desires to distribute his wealth to all humanity in order to raise the quality of their lives, enjoyment, and pleasure, and help them reach their true purpose and potentials, is a great philanthropist. G-d is a philanthropist not a dictator, and that is what is being expressed in his desire for a Dirah Betachtonim.

Explanation: The concept that G-d desired a dwelling place below, and due to this reason created the entire world, is first brought in the Midrash Tanchuma, and elaborated in the teachings of Chassidus, which adopted this statement as the primary reason for creation, despite the fact that many other statements explaining the reason for creation are also recorded. As in any field of wisdom or science, and certainly in the field of philosophy and intellectual Chassidic thought, one is bothered by the question of why? Why did G-d desire creation? Why did G-d desire a dwelling place below? The issue with answering this question is that no matter how you answer it, you will seemingly end up in some philosophical conflict. If you say that G-d is “cold and lonely” [or any other lacking that He feels], and therefore desired a dwelling place below, then you are in essence believing that G-d is not G-d, as He is not perfect and is not infinite, and has problems and issues, lusts and desires, just like you and me. On the other hand, if you say that G-d’s desire to dwell below and subsequent creation of the world is not due to Him lacking anything, then in essence you return back to the original question of why then did G-d do it? Why would anyone do something without any gain or reason or purpose?

While this question is dealt with in Chassidic texts, it is answered in different ways. In some areas it states the famous line that you can’t ask questions on a desire. Meaning, that it is not due to any lacking or reason and in truth is not understood intellectually. This seems to push like the latter approach that G-d’s desire for creation was not due to any personal lacking, and indeed does not contain an intellectual reason.

However, in other Chassidic texts, it explicitly states a reason behind G-d’s desire to dwell below and consequently create the world and this is because G-d is good and desires to be benevolent to others, and it is due to this trait of benevolence that He desired to have a dwelling place below, which itself is for the sake of showing His benevolence to the creations. In detail, it states that G-d desired to dwell his Divine presence on the Jewish people, and that this is the entire expression of the Dirah Betachtonim. The pleasure that the Jewish people will receive from this dwelling, is then the entire purpose of the Dirah.

To quote from the Alter Rebbe in Torah Or “G-d desired a dwelling place below in order to benefit His creations through giving life to low beings so that they can recognize the value and beauty of the infinite light of G-d “ and in Likkutei Torah “The philosophers who denied the concept of divine providence did so due to their inability to understand why G-d would have any desire to have anything to do with man, as He lacks nothing, and all human desires are for selfish reasons to fulfill a certain lacking that the person has. This is all inapplicable by G-d, who is perfect and lacks nothing G-d forbid, and hence how can you say that He lacks the worship of creations and therefore supervises them to see if they are fulfilling His will. However, in truth this is the will of G-d, that creations nullify themselves. This itself is because the aspect of the infinite G-d Is pleasure…. And from there is drawn the pleasure that G-d has from His creations being nullified, as it is the nature of the good to do good… It is also consequently due to this that G-d willed it to have a dwelling place below, in order to do good.”

Hence in summary the meaning behind the purpose of the world’s creation due to a desire for a Dirah Betachtonim, is as follows: G-d, who is good, desired to express His benevolence and therefore desired a dwelling place below, in which He will be able to dwell with the Jewish people, and unite with them, and thereby give them the ultimate pleasure and joy.

According to all this it ends up that the purpose of creation is not for G-d but for us, so we can receive G-d’s goodness and pleasure.

Sources: See Shaareiy Yeshiva Tzefas 6:340 in legnth for all the reasons brought in Chazal behind creation, and how they all compliment each other; See regarding that G-d is essentially perfect but can choose to limit Himself: Kuntreisim of Mittler Rebbe p. 5; See regarding that G-d created the world due to that He desired a dwelling place below: Midrash Tanchuma Naso 16a; Bamidbar Raba 13 6a; Tanya Chapter 33; 36; Maharal in Gevroros Hashem 66; Shelah Hakadosh 2:9b; Repeated in countless areas in Torah Or, Likkutei Torah, Chassidic texts; See regarding that the desire for a Dirah Betachtonim is to dwell amongst the Jewish people: Torah Or Bo; Mishpatim Mamar “Es Elokeiy Yisrael” 76d; Or Hatorah Mishpatim p. 1267; Sefer Hamamrim 5630 p. 64; Sefer Hamamrim 5666, Samech Vav, p. 468; 5670 p. 199; Likkutei Sichos Parshas Pikudei p. 477; Mesilas Yesharim 1; See regarding that G-d is good and desires to do good to others and therefore created the world: Emek Hamelech Shaar Shashuei Hamelech 1; Shomer Emunim Vikuach 2:14; Torah Or Kedoshim 29b; Likkutei Torah Bamidbar 50a Shelach; Kuntreisim of Mittler Rebbe p. 5; Sefer Hamamarim 5677 p. 94; Sefer Hamamarim 5703 p. 116; 5715 p. 198; See regarding that the desire for a Dirah Betachtonim is itself due to a desire to be benevolent to the creations: Torah Or Kedoshim 29b; Likkutei Torah Bamidbar 50a Shelach; First option in Sefer Hamamarim 5701 p. 18; 5703 p. 116 See regarding that the desire for a Dirah Betachtonim is above our intelect to understand why: Samech Vav 1st Mamar p. 7, 10-11; Second option in Sefer Hamamarim 5701 p. 18; 5702 p. 34; 5703 p. 116; Likkutei Sichos 6:18-21

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