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Does G-d regret making or creating something? Of course not! I've always believed this question to be silly and somewhat inappropriate, knowing that G-d is perfect, knows everything, has infinite wisdom and can't make errors. But I was shocked when I recently read this answer in Mi Yodeya quoting from the Gemara that indeed G-d does regret creating not just one, but four things:

Sukkah 52b:

ארבעה מתחרט עליהן הקדוש ברוך הוא שבראם ואלו הם: גלות, כשדים, וישמעאלים ויצר הרע - There are four that the Holy One, Blessed is He, regrets having created. And these are they: The exile, the Chaldeans, the Ishmaelites, and the evil inclination.

How can G-d regret anything if He doesn't make errors? And if He regrets creating the Ishmaelites, why doesn't He destroy them? I also recalled that the Torah literally says G-d regretted having created man in Bereshit 6:6, why isn't man on the list?

  • As far as the Biblical reference, the word is "vayinachem" which is different in meaning from "mischaret" used in the Talmudic passage. – LN6595 Feb 15 '16 at 0:01
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/64025/1857 – ray Feb 16 '16 at 11:32
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Rav Hirsch states (on Noach 6:6) that this is not a matter or "regretting" a decision (as a man would regret a mistake), but that the expression of Man's free will caused an external series of events. An example that Rav Hirsch uses is Shaul Hamelech. That is, we cannot understand Hashem and we are attempting to explain what it is we see or that happens in human terms. Thus we anthropomorphize the description of Hashem by using human terms like regret. However, we have to be careful not to take such terms literally.

Of course Hashem had appointed Shaul to be King, but when Shaul rendered himself unworthy to continue reigning, Shaul's alteration in behavior caused Hashem to alter His decision.

Rav Hirsch explains that these expressions are necessary to teach the concept of free will and that Hashem does not punish without careful examination of Man's deeds.

The two anthropomorphic expressions here save the two essential conceptions: the freedom, the free-will of Hashem and that of Man. Not for nothing does it say, "When Hashem saw etc". The wickedness of Man was not a matter of necessity. Hashem had to see it before He knew it. This expression gives us the guarantee of human free-will. And the fate that overtook mankind was not the result of physical causes which followed set laws, it was preceded by an examination by Hashem and His decision; the decision itself pained the Decider. All this presupposes the personality and free-will of Hashem and keeps this clear in our minds.

As Rashi says

And the Lord regretted that He had made: Heb. וַיִנָּחֶם. It was a consolation to Him that He had created him [man] of the earthly beings, for had he been one of the heavenly beings, he would have caused them to rebel. [This appears in Genesis Rabbah (27:40).

and He became grieved: [I.e.,] man [became grieved],

in His heart: [the heart] of the Omnipresent. It entered the thought of God to cause him [man] grief. This is the translation of Onkelos [i.e., Onkelos supports the view that וַיִּתְעַצֵּב refers to man]. Another explanation of וַיִּנָּחֶם: The thought of the Omnipresent turned from the standard of clemency to the standard of justice. It entered His thoughts to reconsider what to do with man, whom He had made upon the earth. And similarly, every expression of נִחוּם in Scripture is an expression of reconsidering what to do. [For example] (Num. 23:19): “Nor the son of man that He should change His mind (וְיִתְנֶחָם)”; (Deut. 32:36): “And concerning His servants He will change His mind (יִתְנֶחָם)”; (Exod. 32:14): “And the Lord changed His intent concerning the evil (וַיִּנָּחֶם)”; (I Sam. 15:11): “I regret (נִחַמְתִּי) that I made [Saul] king.” These are all an expression of having second thoughts.

and He became grieved: Heb. וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, He mourned over the destruction of His handiwork [i.e., according to this second view, וַיִּתְעַצֵּב refers to God], like (II Sam. 19:3): “The king is saddened (נֶעֱצַב) over his son.” This I wrote to refute the heretics: A gentile asked Rabbi Joshua ben Korchah, “Do you not admit that the Holy One, blessed be He, foresees the future?” He [Rabbi Joshua] replied to him, “Yes.” He retorted, “But it is written: and He became grieved in His heart!” He [Rabbi Joshua] replied, “Was a son ever born to you?” “Yes,” he [the gentile] replied. “And what did you do?” he [Rabbi Joshua] asked. He replied, “I rejoiced and made everyone rejoice.” “But did you not know that he was destined to die?” he asked. He [the gentile] replied, “At the time of joy, joy; at the time of mourning, mourning.” He [Rabbi Joshua] said to him, “So is it with the work of the Holy One, blessed be He; even though it was revealed before Him that they would ultimately sin, and He would destroy them, He did not refrain from creating them, for the sake of the righteous men who were destined to arise from them.” - [from Gen. Rabbah 27:4]

  • I believe RSRH's point is that it's an anthropomorphic description, rather than theologically precise. Much like our answer to "can G-d be happy?" Might be worth emphasizing in your answer, rather than just leaving the word in the quote. – Micha Berger Feb 16 '16 at 16:50
  • @MichaBerger I added a sentence to expand that. – sabbahillel Feb 16 '16 at 17:01
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Man was made in the image of God(Bereshit 1:27), so it is not surprising that God has feelings (regrets - Bereshit 6:7, mercy - Shemot 32:12-14, jealousy - Shemot 34:14) e.t.c This does not make God any less perfect. On the other hand, as answer above points out, God is not man so he does not lie(Bemidbar 23:19). So while God has feelings, they never result in bad actions. Emotions of God a part of God's plan. They are predetermined but they exist nevertheless.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Pretty sure this is heresy. – Y     e     z Feb 15 '16 at 4:06
  • @Yez Why do you say that? – Aleksandr Sigalov Feb 15 '16 at 4:41
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    Well, man was made in the image of G-d, so would you say G-d has a pancreas and opposable thumbs? – Y     e     z Feb 15 '16 at 4:47
  • Sure, why not? Moses saw Him and He had human form. Except for the face. – Aleksandr Sigalov Feb 15 '16 at 5:09
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    That's where the heresy is - it is a cardinal principle of Jewish faith that G-d does not have a body or any physical form, or any limitations of any kind. He may interact with the world with certain modes, but He is not bound by such limitations. – Y     e     z Feb 15 '16 at 5:21

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