On second thought

Looking at the results of our labour, we sometimes feel immense pride but more often than not we experience mixed emotions. We could have done it better, we did not strive for perfection, this all has to be destroyed and we need to start anew.

As beings, created in God’s image, we merely emulate here the feelings described by the Torah in Genesis 6:6. “And God regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened.” We all know the described feeling too well. Of course, the magnitude of our creations is incomparable with those of God but the regret and sadness over something that has not gone exactly as it was planned are very familiar to anyone who has ever attempted any endeavor and even more familiar to any parent out there.

Chizkuni in his commentary on this verse analyses the verb וינחם, explaining that one of the contexts where it is used are the occasions of God changing his mind, for example, over the fate of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah. However, God, to quote Chizkuni, “… does not allow Himself the luxury of changing His mind as an act of pique, completely unprovoked.”

Thus the decision to destroy humanity in these verses is not a whim. It is a well-thought plan that is, as the text states, unpleasant for God but still has to be executed. However, the mere ability of God to feel regret and sadness makes this passage so close and familiar to us.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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