Allen S. Maller

Can God err? Does God care?

“Adonai regretted making humans on earth, and God’s heart was pained.” (Genesis 6:6) The pain and regret God feels is not due to God’s negative attitude to humanity. But God is disappointment that humans have started out so badly and have not yet lived up to their Divine potential.

Regret (“va-yinakhem”) also is related to the word for consolation (“nakhamah”). Midrash Genesis Rabbah 27:4 presents several portraits of God.

Rabbi Judah has God saying: “It was My mistake that I created him below, as a terrestrial being; had I created him in the higher realms, he would not have rebelled against Me.”

Rabbi Nehemiah suggests that God is “…consoled, knowing that he created humans in the lower realms, with limited powers. For had humans been of the upper realms, they would have caused all to rebel.” Does Rabbi Nehemiah think humans could corrupt the angels?

Rabbi Aivu proposes that God “…regrets creating humans with a yetzer ha-ra, an evil/untamed inclination, for had God not so created humans, they would not have rebelled against God.”

But Rabbi Levi has a more positive take on consolation. He conjectures that God is “…consoled in making humans as God did, for humans will be set in the earth,” i.e. humans are mortal and subject to burial. Every generation, no matter how evil will die out, so there is always hope that future generations will get it right.

I say, “Although God knew giving humans moral free will would mean they would do great evils, when it occurs it still hurts God deeply and causes temporary regret. We also learn from this that God does respond to human actions and cares deeply for us.”

The more power/choice; the more problems? How does Judaism view the use of power/choice and the dangers of giving human beings too much power/choice?

“For 2 years, the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel debated whether God should have created humankind. Shammai’s school said it would have been better if human beings had not been created; Hillel’s school held the opposite view.

Finally, they voted and the majority decided that Shammai’s school was right and it would have been better had human beings not been created, but since they were, each person is responsible for examining their own past and future deeds” (Talmud, Masekhet Eruvin 13b).

What might the debate have been like? What arguments would you have offered in the first century? What arguments would you offer today? Are extreme ecology people the modern students of Shammai?

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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