Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vayinachem

The word vayinachem is translated by JPS as "And he repented of" or "and it repented him."

Something that I find particularly fascinating are the two instances where the word occurs.

The word vayinachem first occurs when God decides that He will destroy the entire world, save Noah and his immediate family, because of their wickedness.

ו וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה, כִּי-עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ; וַיִּתְעַצֵּב, אֶל-לִבּוֹ.

6 And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.

~Genesis 6:6

What I find fascinating is the fact that the word comes full circle. The next time we see vayinachem is when God specifically decides not to destroy the people due to their wickedness.

יד וַיִּנָּחֶם, יְהוָה, עַל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לְעַמּוֹ. {פ}

14 And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people. {P}

~Exodus 32: 14

I believe that the word was very specifically chosen to be used in both scenarios. Not only is the very word elevated due to its context, but these two scenarios show a distinct difference between the way in which God judges His people. In the first scenario, God saw their wickedness and was grieved by it. He therefore determined to "blot out man, whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them." It is only then that Noah finds grace in God's eyes. At this point, God speaks to Noah and tells him, in an extremely final tone, that He is planning to destroy the whole earth and Noah must build an ark. Noah does not argue. The verse explains that he did "according to all that God commanded him, so did he" (Genesis 6: 22). However, Noah was punished for this. He was supposed to have argued, and he didn't.

[As a sidepoint, this makes you wonder how one ought to interpret "And Aaron did so" in Numbers 8: 3. Rashi's interpretation logically shouldn't work there, unless perhaps the reason Aaron is so praised is that he did according to everything that "God commanded Moses." In that case, it really is amazing that Aaron didn't deviate from anything, because he was getting the information secondhand and still managed to fulfill it perfectly.]

There is an extreme difference in the way that God processes the situation by the Sin of the Golden Calf. At first, God desires to use Flood Logic on his people. In the same way that he had determined to destroy everything and start anew from Noah, he plans to destroy his nation and start anew from Moses. However, Moses changes this logic. In effect, he teaches God. Of course, there is the qualifier "Leave me alone" in this context which specifically does not appear by Noah. But Moses argues with God- and he wins. God realizes that he need not be a perfectionist, as it were. He need not start over the world each time its people commit a grievous sin. Instead, He must learn to deal with humanity, and with humanity's sins. Rather than acting the perfectionist, He must learn to love the flaws.

This is the great distinction between Flood Logic and Golden Calf Logic. Flood Logic assumes that the world must be perfect, and that wickedness cannot be tolerated. It is Elohim who is dominant when it comes to Flood Logic. In Golden Calf Logic, it is Adonoy who is dominant, God of Mercy, God who understands the flaws and who is able to tolerate wickedness, comprehending that these errors can be rectified. Note that Moses specifically seeks Adonoy Elohav in this scenario. He is looking for Adonoy, God of Mercy, when he attempts to advance his argument. Adonoy can be swayed; Elohim cannot. Noah sees only Elohim. In Genesis 6:22, it says that Noah did everything Elohim commanded. Noah did not realize that there was an Adonoy behind the Elohim who had repented of having made man, and to whom he could have appealed.

Hence the difference in the two "vayinachems." The first time, God repented of having made man, and then donned his Elohim aspect when speaking to Noah (alternatively, Noah incorrectly saw that aspect of Him, and ought to have argued.) The second time, God is persuaded by Moses' logic and he repents of the evil which He had said He would bring upon his people. The word "vayinachem" is used in both scenarios to show how differently events can unfold depending on a) which aspect of God is present and b) whether or not man argues, attempting to defend his beloved people.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The word “vayinachem” translated as “regretted” can also mean the opposite: comforted, and the word translated as “on” can also be “with”. Thus the Rabbis read the phrase “God regretted that He had made man on earth” as “God was comforted that He had made man with earth (so that he could make only the earthly beings rebel)”.

Mike S. said...

I believe you missed an occurance at the end of parashat Chayye Sarah. "Vayinachem Yitzchak Acharei Immo" where the word plainly does not mean either regretted or repented

Anonymous said...

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