Israel-Hamas War

The Flood of Regret

When God sees the evil of humanity, God is sorrowful in his heart (Genesis 6:6) and destroys humanity in a flood, only to regret it afterwards. Promising never to destroy humanity again, God takes a new approach.  


October 24, 2023

RabbiHanan Schlesinger


Hanan Schlesinger


The Flood of Regret

Noah's Ark and the Flood, Augsburg Book of Miracles, ca. 1552, f. 1. Wikimedia

The Torah begins with God creating humanity in the divine image:

בראשית א:כז וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם.
Gen 1:27 And God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God—creating them male and female.

And yet, only a few generations later, humanity turns out to be evil:

בראשית ו:ה וַיַּרְא יְ־הוָה כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבּוֹ רַק רַע כָּל הַיּוֹם.
Gen 6:5 YHWH saw how great was human wickedness on earth—how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time.

God regrets creating humanity and, with sorrow, decides to wipe them all out, along with every other living thing:

בראשית ו:ו וַיִּנָּחֶם יְ־הוָה כִּי עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּב אֶל לִבּוֹ. ו:ז וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֶמְחֶה אֶת הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה מֵאָדָם עַד בְּהֵמָה עַד רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם.
Gen 6:6 And YHWH regretted having made humankind on earth. With a sorrowful heart, YHWH said, “I will blot out from the earth humankind whom I created—humans together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.”

God floods the earth, bringing death and destruction, which kills men, women, and children as well as the whole natural world of animals and birds. Nothing is left other than Noah and his family, whom God preserves in the ark together with the gathered animals. When the flood waters abate, and Noah’s family steps off the ark with the animals on to dry land to repopulate the world, God rethinks the efficacy of the flood:

בראשית ח:כא ... וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הוָה אֶל לִבּוֹ לֹא אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו וְלֹא אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת כָּל חַי כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי.
Gen 8:21 …And YHWH resolved: “Never again will I doom the earth because of humankind, since the devisings of the human mind are evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done.”

Even though the evil-doers have been eradicated—as they justly deserved—and only the righteous Noah and his family will repopulate the world, evil remains in the human heart. The potential for evil is a built-in feature of humanity and will raise its ugly head again. Thus, God decides to forgo the option of destroying the world again, not because humanity is permanently improved but because such an action won’t change things in the long run.

God’s sorrow over humanity’s evil conduct had overshadowed the truth that human beings carry within them the divine image and have the potential to actualize it. Together with humanity’s potential for evil is potential for good, and thus, God’s new solution, found in the next chapter, is to begin a process of prolonged engagement with humankind, based on the fundamental principle of the divine spark within all of us:

בראשית ט:ו שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם
Gen 9:6 Whoever sheds human blood,
בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ
By human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed;
כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם.
For in the image of God was humankind made.

God here reminds humanity and God’s-self of this eternal truth, the humans were made in the divine image. This is the underpinning of God’s hope for humanity. At the same time, God realizes that in order for humanity to stand a chance for long-term improvement, God will have to play a more hands-on role. Thus, God abandons the quick fix approach of the Flood and moves to the long-haul process approach of investing in humanity’s future by protracted engagement with them, beginning with the first fundamental ethical law, not to kill.

This, of course, is only the beginning of God’s lawgiving to humanity, a key feature of the Torah. Indeed, the very word torah means “instruction,” “teaching,” “law,” or “guidance. Thus, God takes on a new role, engaging humankind, offering them a way forward.

God tried complete violent eradication of evildoers along with their surroundings, but quickly realized—although still too late—that mass destruction will not solve the problem. Thus, God rethinks what the proper course of action should be, and decides that the only effective way forward is not to lash out, but to engage with them over the long-term.

Walking in God’s footsteps – imitatio Dei – is one of the meta-principles of the Torah. If we were to apply the lesson of the biblical flood to the gut-wrenching predicament of Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Flood and its aftermath, perhaps these verses can have a message for us here too. And perhaps, just perhaps, it is not too late.

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger is director of international relations for Roots/Shorashim/Judur, a joint Palestinian-Israeli grassroots peacemaking initiative, which he cofounded along with Ali Abu Awwad and Shaul Judelman. Before that, he served as Executive Director and Community Rabbinic Scholar for the Jewish Studies Initiative of North Texas, and as coordinator for Faiths in Conversation, a framework for Muslim-Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue which he found in 2012. Schlesinger lives with his family in Alon Shvut. He studied Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was certified as a rabbi by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.


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