parshat noach, Genesis 6
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 27th 2022. According to the popular Bible translations, “in the generation of Noah, God regretted having made humankind”. As if to say that regret is the first Divine emotion represented in the Torah… not mercy, not anger, not joy, not love and not jealousy. We discuss…
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week we read the parsha called Noach and according to popular Bible translations, “in the generation of Noah, God regretted having made humankind”. It’s the first time an emotion is attributed to God in the Torah. Not mercy, not anger, not joy, not love and not jealousy but regret is the first Divine emotion we encounter. That’s something worth considering … so join us for: With regret, signed: God
Well, welcome back. Rabbi Adam, it’s great to have you back. We certainly missed you. And you missed the Bereshit. But you’re here for Noach, and we are all the children of Adam, but we will so all the children of Noah. So, from a certain point of view, this is a beginning all over again. And as I said in the intro, I surprised myself…. I was always intrigued by this verse that we’re going to start with where God regrets having made humans on the earth. But I surprised myself in the sense that it is the first emotion that is ever attributed to God. Maybe I’m wrong, but I went back from the beginning and read all the way up to our Parsha. It says God said it says God rested. And there are emotions attributed to God. I mean, there’s jealousy, there’s anger, there’s all sorts of things. But here is the first time an emotion is associated with God. And we’re going to spend some time defining it. But anyway, you define it וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’. God was, let’s say, regretted. It’s the first emotion attributed to God. That’s a pretty big moment. Do you agree?
Adam Mintz 02:19
That’s a pretty big moment and don’t lose the fact that וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם means he regretted is the same word is Noach.
Geoffrey Stern 02:27
So so we have seen this kind of thing before where a literary piece like the parsha plays, and fiddles and rotates, and bobbles, a word … a name, and as you say, it starts by using this word וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם, but in וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם is the word, Noah. And we’ll see when we read the whole parsha, not tonight, but when you go ahead and read the whole parsha, you’ll see that it continues when the dove gets cast out. And is looking for dry land. It says וְלֹֽא־מָצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ, the Yona the dove did not find rest. And again, it’s this same word. מָנ֜וֹחַ….. .נֹ֔חַ I think you’re absolutely right, the fact that it’s the first time an emotion is used, and the fact that here the progenitor of all of human races, is associated with this emotion, again, as you say, makes it even more important. So, with that, let’s go to Genesis 6: 6 and I am literally going to read you a few different translations of the verse. I’ll say it in Hebrew first, because we’re going to spend the whole evening on this one verse וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’ כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ. So the first translation is the Jewish Publication Society. And it says, And God regretted having made humankind on Earth with a sorrowful heart. So that is what always attracted me to this, I only recently realized that was the first emotion attributed to God. But this concept of regret …. of God regretting his creation, in the second parsha has always intrigued me and made me want to understand is it the correct interpretation? What does it mean to us? I mean, it is pretty powerful that God after creating this whole beautiful world, calling it good calling it at the end Tov M’od, all of a sudden, 6: 6 he’s regretting it.
Adam Mintz 04:55
It’s fascinating, and of course that goes without saying the whole idea that God should regret something, it goes against our idea of God, obviously, right? I mean, we think that God gets it right. If God can’t get it, right, I mean, how can anybody get it? Right?
Geoffrey Stern 05:17
So, you know, I think the bigger question is anthropomorphism, how can you talk about God in any human, finite terms? How can you say that God said, how can you say that God rested on the seventh day? But certainly, when you get to emotions, it raises the ante a little bit. And when God is regretting something, our western I would say Greek philosophically influenced concept of God, is he or she is perfect. So how can something perfect make a mistake? Because isn’t that the basis of regret? So, I think we’ll see in the commentaries or in the translations, I should say, that maybe there’s a little bit of sensitivity to translating it as regret. So, if we go to Everett Fox, he says, God was sorry, that he had made humankind on Earth, and it pained his heart. So we really need to focus on two words here. One is וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם, and the other is וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב. And here Fox says וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם means to be sorry, and וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב …If you notice, in the JPS, it said the second word was with a sorrowful heart. He says it’s a pained heart. But what I think just getting to these two verses shows us…, there are many times especially in Psalms, where the way the Bible tries to convey the sense of a word is almost use synonyms is almost to say the same thing twice. A lot of times, the rabbi tried to pause it and say, well, why did it say a twice it must have different meanings. But I think you’ll agree with me that many times, you don’t have to say it means something different that we can learn from what one word is what the other word is. And here we have in these two translations, a perfect example of that, because the first translation talks about with a sorrowful heart, that is how it translates וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ, and the second translation of Fox translates וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’, as and God was sorry. So certainly we are getting more nuance about what this regret is. It’s regret. It’s sorrowful. You know, when you regret something, I think the implication is, you think you could have done it differently. And when you are sorry about something, I’m not sure you always the implication is always that you could have done it differently. Certainly, when you are pained by something. It just hurts. So, I do think we’re getting some more nuances, don’t you?
Adam Mintz 08:16
Yeah. Well, I mean, let’s, let’s start at the beginning. And God was sorry. And he was pained. Now, isn’t that obvious? When you’re sorry about something, then you’re upset about it? What is the Torah tell you? The Torah seems to suggest that maybe God was sorry, but that maybe God was in pain by it, because God is God, and God can do everything. And therefore, if God decided to do what he wasn’t sorry about it, he was satisfied with the way that it worked out. But it really turns God into a person by saying that God was sorry. And that being sorry, led him to feel badly about it, right? Both pieces are important, because they kind of emphasize what we’re talking about.
Geoffrey Stern 09:08
Yeah, no question. The two words can amplify each other. But they can also be a progression. We’re not sure yet. You go to the Koran Jerusalem Bible. And it says, And the Lord repented, that he had made man on earth, and it grieved him in his heart. So, I think repented, all of a sudden starts to be it’s really a human type of term. And as you said before, it strikes us as odd but it sounds like he’s going to do something about it. Being sorry about something being pained about something, you don’t necessarily get a sense that you can do or you need to do something. But when you repented about something, then we start to get this feeling of maybe he’s going to do something it’s a forecasting of the rest of the parsha which of course, we know is full of a lot of action as a result of this emotion that God is feeling. The Metsudah Chumash says Adonoy was comforted that he had made man on earth, and he grieved in his heart. So here is the one that uses וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם in the way I think most of us would take it from a number of perspectives. You mentioned at the outset that the word וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם has the word נֹ֔חַ in it. No, I would typically mean the comforter, would it not? Noah, it was the fixer. Noah, it was the guy who …. as regretful as God was about the rest of the world. Noah was the one who he could cast his lot with. We talked about the Yona the Dove, finding a resting place, again, that comes from finding comfort, finding a happy place, finding a place to lay one’s head, if we want to talk about comfort. Nowadays, when God forbid somebody passes away, and you go to the house of mourning, you are Minachem Avelim.. you are consoling the mourners, and there is a a formula that you need to say veyinachem haMakom etchem that God should comfort you. So that would be the most natural translation. But it’s very hard to read in the verse, isn’t it? That God was comforted that he had made man on earth, and he grieved in his heart? It’s a hard read.
Adam Mintz 11:50
The hard read is not that the word וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם can mean and he was comforted. That clearly is a legitimate explanation. But how do you explain the second half of the pasuk? If he was comforted, then why was he grieved? I mean, I don’t even understand what the Metsudah Chumash, how it just it’s explaining the verse, What does it mean, he was comforted, but he was grieved. How does that work? Is that is that a progression? That initially he was comforted? And then he grieved? Is that what it’s saying?
Geoffrey Stern 12:31
You know, I guess you could make the case that when you grieve, that is part of the process of getting over one’s pain. But the question is much better than the answer. There is a commentary that is based on Rashi that I’m going to read next comes up with a little bit of an answer. They focus on the fact…. something that we’ve ignored till now. It says וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם ה’ כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ, that God, we were translating it as regretted that he had made man on the earth. So the commentary by the Rashi Chumash says, And the Lord was comforted, that he had made man on earth, in parentheses, (and not in heaven, where he would have really made trouble. And then he thought, to go ahead and scout him. So, Rashi says that it was consolation to God that he had created man on earth, for had he been one of the heavenly beings, he would have incited them also to rebel against God. So, I don’t know if I buy into the interpretation, but I am thankful for the focusing on Haaretz; on the earth, what does it mean, even if we don’t buy this translation? And we talk about it means regret? It means sorry? What is the purpose of Haaretz; in the land? I think that’s a valid question.
Adam Mintz 14:11
I think that’s a very valid question. I think that what we see in these couple of parshiot, Bereshit and Noach is that there’s kind of this this tension between the human beings and the angelic figures. At the end of last week’s parsha, right before Noach, we have this crazy story about the B’ney Ha’Elohim the sons of gods who come and they come down and they take et banot Haaretz. They take the the girls, the women, as as wives, and it seems to be that there’s some confusion about you know, those who live in heaven and those who live on Earth. And it could be it could be that that’s a preliminary to the story of the flood, because God needed to start again, there needed to be a clearer distinction between those people who lived in heaven and those people who lived on earth. And that that might be what he’s referring to here. That might be what Rashi is referring to when he when he emphasizes B’Aretzt, because that’s playing immediately, after the story of the b’nei Ha’Elohim, which is the sons of God, and where in the world do they come from? What’s that all about?
Geoffrey Stern 15:33
So, one of the sub-texts of last week’s conversation was how earthly the Bible begins. And of course, as a Christian, I was interested in my friend Richard’s approach to that, because what he’s trying to do is bring Christianity which can be other-worldly, and talk about the pearly gates all the time and say, it’s all about Earth. And at the end of the day, man was created, B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, to steward and to exert agency over the earth. So, I take a little bit of a poetic license, but what I see and wash his comment here is that the whole experiment, the whole endeavor, the whole exercise of creation, …. and we can delve into the reasons why a God would want to create this earth out of nothing. But at the end of the day, that’s what the regrets were, the regrets were that he or she had this amazing project, and the project was to create this earthly existence. And whatever God was doing before that, you know, no regrets. But this project, this so earthly project, that is all we know, God regretted it. So, from that perspective, I’m at the same time very much with Rashi. And I guess what he was comforted was in Rashi’s words, that, you know, there were other things, but in terms of this endeavor, this model of the earth, that he was a total disaster. And I think at this point, we can kind of step back for a second and say, Okay, so we’re talking about the first emotional response of God. And if we go through the long list of different ways we’ve translated it, whether it’s regret, or sorrow, or pain, or repented, or even he or she was comforted. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? That this is the first exposure that we have to Gods emotions with us. And maybe the emphasis needs to be “with us”. It’s an emotional interaction with his creations, and we’re somehow linked to each other.
Adam Mintz 18:07
And God regrets it and therefore destroys his own creation. I’m going a little far afield. But I think the point is the right point. And that is that, you know, when God destroys humanity, the person who’s most negatively affected by that is God. Right? Because God made something. God created a whole world and God thought it was a mistake. Isn’t that unbelievable? Isn’t that crazy?
Geoffrey Stern 18:41
It absolutely is. I’m gonna go to one more translation that I I was I was blown away because it’s so radically different than everyone else. The first translations of the Bible were not commentaries. They were Aramaic translations. So there’s Onkolus and Targum Yonatan and both of them, I think, are trying to address the problem that you just raised, which is it’s crazy. How can God regret something that he created? And what they do is they introduce something into the regret. They say regretted in His Word וְתַב ה’ בְּמֵימְרֵהּ, they go back to the fact that God created the world with a word with language, and language again, it’s something that we can understand, right, Leshon bnai Adam. So it’s almost as though he regrets the story. He regrets the narrative. I think what they’re trying to do is to take it away from physicality and actuality and more into the level of language, (literature) and words. It’s a fascinating move. But clearly, I think that’s what lies behind what they’ve done.
Adam Mintz 20:03
I mean, there’s no question that That’s right. And וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם, God regretted it, and in a way, God regretted it. And it’s exactly the same emotion. On the flip side, that that comforted God through the figure of no luck.
Geoffrey Stern 20:24
There’s there’s two sides
Adam Mintz 20:26
It’s the same word is important, because it’s two sides of the same coin.
Geoffrey Stern 20:31
Yeah. It’s this dialectic. It’s this. There’s this ambivalence here. So, I said at the beginning, that we’re really talking about two words. And I want to move on a little bit to the second word, which is וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב. And that, as we have seen, has also been translated in multiple ways. pained, grieved… is the most normal translation. It’s an amazing word. Because if you go back to Genesis 3, when man and woman sin for the first time, and they are punished in Genesis 3: 16, it says to the woman he said, I will multiply your pain from your pregnancy, אַרְבֶּה֙ עִצְּבוֹנֵ֣ךְ. With pains shall you bear children, בְּעֶ֖צֶב תֵּֽלְדִ֣י בָנִ֑ים. So twice, it uses the same word as an outcome of a bad choice. And then with Adam too it says, And cause the ground, on your account, painstaking labor, you’re gonna have to eat by the sweat of your brow, בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכְלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ . So in modern day Hebrew, if you’re sad, you’re עצוב. If you make me sad, if you annoy me, you לעצבן.
Adam Mintz 22:18
The word you’re looking for is עצוב if you’re sad, you עצוב.
Geoffrey Stern 22:24
Absolutely. And so it’s fascinating that that same word, which was used as the outcome of Adam and Eve’s first sin, is also applied to God, when He recognizes that his experiment has gone awry. it kind of emphasizes what we were saying before, which is that God and His creations, or Her creations are linked or joined. And the pain that is suffered by man, when he falls short, is also suffered by God when he falls short. And maybe from that point of view, it’s not so strange that this is the first emotion that we find attributed to God.
Adam Mintz 23:15
It’s a reflection of falling short, and therefore God regrets creating man, God feels as if he fell short.
Geoffrey Stern 23:25
And I said at the beginning, that it was amazing that the first emotion was not love. It was not jealousy, it was not anger, it wasn’t mercy. But I have to take that back a little bit. Because mercy is רַחֵם. And that too, is related to נחם. So, there is this symbiotic relationship, where for better or worse, God has created this creation. And as the Creator, He is inextricably linked to the creation. And that’s what we find in chapter two, that God is part of this story. He’s a part of our story. And he or she can’t get out of it. And we’re in it kind of together. And that becomes kind of fascinating. And that ties in what what Onkelos and the Targum Yonatan was saying is it’s about this story. It’s about the words, I find that fascinating.
Adam Mintz 24:28
I think it’s fascinating. Now, the fact that God is a partner with human beings in the story of creation is a very troubling aspect, because it means God changes His mind and kaboom. Everything is blown up. Now, of course, that’s interesting. And that’s why this is another topic. That’s why God needs the rainbow. The reason God needs the rainbow is because God needs to promise everybody, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to ever do this again, because you better believe that they were nervous that God was going to do this again. Right?
Geoffrey Stern 24:59
So it means the story is moving forward. And there are new rules as a result, chapter three is going to be different than chapter two, there’s a progression God,
Adam Mintz 25:08
There are new rules for God. And after Noah leaves the ark, there are new rules for human beings, that you’re that human beings. They’re not going to live together with the animals, they’re going to eat the animals. But they can’t eat animals that are still alive. There are a certain set of rules, because I think that the story in last week’s parsha; creation, there weren’t quite enough rules, it was kind of a free for all. And that’s what you have the B’nai ha’Elohim you have the children of God coming down. That’s all too complicated. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Geoffrey Stern 25:49
So you know, in years past, I think I’ve said that I thought that the story of Genesis is all about choosing…. making choices, we’re going to start getting Cain Abel, we’re going to start getting we started with Noah, that Noah was chosen, that Cain and Abel, one was chosen. And then of course, our patriarchs, and I thought it was all about choosing, but I’m starting to think a little bit differently, that there’s a parallel story going on. And when you choose something, you regret a previous choice, when you have to say I put my lot, I put my chips with all of mankind. And then you have to go just with Noah, there’s the flip side of choosing is regrets. And if God begins the story with B’nei Adam… the people, the children of Adam, or the Children of the Earth, it’s universal. And then starts again with Noach. So now we’re bnai Noach. But this is the last time that we’re all part of the the right side of the choice.
Adam Mintz 27:01
Well, that changes in the Tower of Babel. Because in the Tower of Babel, you see the risk, when everybody’s together, when everybody’s together, then there’s a risk that they’re going to try to take over and be like God, so therefore after that story, we’re never united the same way.
Geoffrey Stern 27:22
And again, it’s a what I want to focus on for a second is the fact that it’s ultimately the story of God’s regrets, as much as it is the story of Gods positive choices. And if you look at modern Hebrew, the word עצוב is sad as you point out, but the word עצב means nerve. And עצבני means both sadness, as well as nervous and irritated. So, in a sense, we have a level of, I wouldn’t venture to say it’s depression. But because his creations are falling short, because he has this regret, because he has to comfort himself. There is no question that he is fear, feeling sadness, and pain. And I’m currently reading a book, I don’t know whether you’ve read it or not, it was on the bestseller list about a year ago. It’s called Genius and Anxiety How Jews change the world.
Adam Mintz 28:33
I do know the book, I didn’t read it. But I know the book.
Geoffrey Stern 28:35
The author, Norman Lebrecht, definitely makes the argument that there were many Jews who happen to be geniuses or geniuses that happened to be Jews, it’s a little bit harder to find out what his message is about anxiety, but he tries to talk about the creativity created by anxiety. And for those of us who look at those parts of the Torah that talk about God in anthropomorphic ways, and we say that is not because God has an arm or God gets angry. But this is a reflection of ourselves. I think it becomes fascinating then, to see that the first emotion attributed to God is this sense of anxiety, this sense of depression, if you will, and if you start thinking, even in his book, he mentioned the Yisrael Salanter, who started the Mussar Movement, who five years spent his life in Germany because he was depressed, Kotzke Rebbe, Kierkegaard, these great spiritual forces, the Breslever Rebbe they all encountered deep, deep periods of depression. And I think that’s part of the story too, that you know, we talk about being godly and being in the image of God, but when you aspire that high, when you when you try to, to create a model such as this, you are opening yourself up for these feelings.
Adam Mintz 28:49
Depression, the word that comes to mind to me is disappointment. Disappointment means that you don’t reach your goal. And that’s actually how God felt God imagined that creation would be x, whatever God thought, and he was disappointed. And disappointment leads to sadness and disappointment leads to depression, like you said, I think that’s exactly the point. You see, what you’re really pointing out from the book and from Yisrael Salanter and all those people is that depression is actually a good thing. That shows that you’re thinking that shows that you that you’re desiring of something, you want things to be great, and you’re disappointed if you can’t get there, and therefore you depress when that doesn’t happen. But ultimately, it’s a good thing to want to be great. If you don’t want to be great, you’re never going to be disappointed.
Geoffrey Stern 31:06
Yeah, I think, you know, we have to point out that we’re clearly not talking about clinical depression. And we’re not talking about medical depression.
Adam Mintz 31:12
That’s why I said it’s, it’s depression, from the sense of disappointment. From the word עצוב you’re disappointed, disappointed, therefore, you’re sad, therefore, you’re depressed in that sense. It’s a sense that you’re just disappointed. And that’s a good thing. And maybe what we learned from God is the fact that it’s good to be disappointed, we should all want to conquer the world. And therefore, when we can do it, we’ll be disappointed, but at least we were trying.
Geoffrey Stern 31:41
So when I was at the Mussar Yeshiva, with Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, and we had a Va’ad, which would meet late at night, once a week, and once he talked about regret, disappointment, and he says, you know, if you sin and you feel depressed or disappointed afterwards, I’ll turn to you and say, Well, who were you before? Were you Moshe? Rabbeinu. It’s kind of like the old Musar joke. Where all the Mussarniks say I’m nothing, I’m nothing and a new student comes in, and he’s sitting next to one of the senior students. And he goes, I’m nothing, I’m nothing. And they go, Who the hell are you to say you’re nothing. The point he’s making is we started by saying how strange it is that God could be disappointed. But if you look at that message, what it’s saying is actually, the only figure who can be disappointed, who deserves to be disappointed is God, the rest of us need to use our disappointment as a catalyst as a motivation. But we can’t let it get it down. And I think of all the, the great leaders that I mentioned, who, who, who had spouts, of depression, The Breslow Rebbi was the one who focused on joy as a result of that to get out of it.
Adam Mintz 32:59
That’s a great twist to the discussion. So we started with a hard verse about God. And we turned it around to talk about what we need to do and how we need to turn that depression into joy. I think that’s a great lesson for Parshat Noach. It’s great to be back. Enjoy parshat Noach, everybody. Geoffrey, I’m so happy to be back. I look forward to talking about Avraham and parshat Lech Lecha next week. Shabbat Shalom to everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 33:30
Shabbat shalom. Shabbat Menucha to everyone, and we’ll see you next week.
Listen to last year’s podcast: Noah’s Rainbow