Shalom and thank you for your important question. It is the most important question there is! When people don’t even think about that question they cannot really live a meaningful life or reach their full potential, at least spiritually.
The Torah – the Jewish Bible – is not just just the Five Books of Moses. The word Torah is from the Hebrew root ‘horaah’ which means teaching or instruction. The Torah includes the Five Books of Moses as well as the writings of the Prophets and the Judges, King Solomon, and the whole body of the Oral law – the Midrash, the Talmud, and more. The Sages explain in the Midrash Tanchuma (on the Torah portion Naso:16) that G-d created the world because He desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds. What does this mean?
According to the esoteric or inner dimension of Torah, there is no existence of any kind other than G-d. Nothing at all. G-d IS everywhere all the time anyway. So how can we understand the statement ‘a dwelling place in the lower worlds?’ According to Kabbala, G-d created (and constantly RE-creates) the physical dimension of existence as well as the spiritual worlds that exist, by a dynamic that we can understand somewhat through the analogy of the birth process. The womb is a muscle which opens up to allow birth by a series of contractions. Similarly G-d sets Himself aside – as it were – His infinite self – to allow for a form of existence where spirituality is hidden and the dimensions we live in are finite. We perceive ourselves as separate entities from G-d and from each other, and we have to choose between good and evil.
Truthfully all this is from our perspective. As it says in the book of Malachi 3:6 “I the L-rd have not changed”, which according to Chassidic teaching means that from G-d’s end of the equation He is always the same. The changes happen in this world where WE are not able to discern the underlying spiritual energy that sustains us andalk of creation. We here have the challenge to follow the instructions of the Torah, which is the expression of G-d’s will and wisdom, and thereby bring the world to a rectified state. It isn’t simple to fulfill these instructions (for a Non-Jew there are the Seven Noahide Laws, and for a Jew there are six hundred and thirteen mitzvot or specific commandments,) because we possess two souls within us. We possess an animalistic soul which helps keep us functioning by giving us the drive to eat and drink, procreate and protect ourselves, and it also gives us the instinct to have fun or pursue pleasures. The G-dly soul constantly strives upwards just like a flame towards its source. It prods us to listen to the voice of conscience, the still small voice, and identify with the side of good, tempering the fun-loving instincts when necessary, and motivating us to try to improve society and/or benefit the world in some way. There is ongoing tension between the two souls, with each one sometimes pulling us in opposite directions
When we each try to learn G-d’s will by studying the Torah and do our best to carry out the commandments (as mentioned above – the Seven Noahide Laws for a Non-Jew or the 613 commandments for a Jew) despite the obstacles that life brings us, we elevate – rectify – the world, and bring it closer to the ideal state of revealed G-dliness, which is the era of the Messiah. The obstacles in question can be our own thoughts or emotions, or external events. Usually we experience challenges from both of the above sources.
What about individuality? If we all have to carry out the same laws, what happens with our individuality? The thing is that we are all different. We are all comprised of different combinations of ten soul powers or energies (or sefirot). Each of us is a different combination with slightly different predominance.
There are three powers of the intellect: Chochmah – commonly known as Wisdom but representing the initial spark of insight, Binah – understanding – the fleshing out and development of an idea into details, and Da’at – knowledge – actualization of the idea. Next are the seven emotive powers: Chessed – loving-kindness/reaching out/expansion, Gevurah – Severity/holding back, Tiferet – Harmony/balance, Netzach – Victory/persistence towards the goal, Hod – Glory/humility/acknowledgement, Yesod – Connection, and Malchut – Royalty/dignity/speech. One person might be predominant in the attribute of intellectual insight, and another person might be predominantly the kind of person who is generous and giving, while a third might be great at speaking charismatically. When each person strives to use his or her own talents and strengths to fulfill his/her role in Torah and mitzvot – commandments, they are fulfilling it in their unique and individual way. This goes for trials and tribulations as well. A poor person may be extending himself greatly to give a small amount of charity while a wealthy philanthropist who funds many great causes may have difficulty being patient with his or her fellow. The effort is of great importance.
The fact that you have taken an interest in this topic may help tip the scales for the world to be G-d’s dwelling place – and the next step is to act on the information here!