G‑d said, "I will wash away man, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth; man as well as cattle, creeping things, and birds of the skies, for I have been thinking about [what to do] about [the fact that] I made them."

-- Breishis 6:7

Classic Questions

What did G‑d say he would do to man? (v. 7)

Rashi: G‑d said, "Man is from the earth. I will bring water upon him and wash him away… for I have been thinking about what to do about the fact that I created him."

Onkelos: G‑d regretted that He had made man and planned to destroy him.

The Rebbe's Teachings

G‑d's Decree Against Mankind (v. 7)

Onkelos renders a straightforward translation of verse 7: "G‑d said, "I will obliterate (אמחה) man from the face of the earth... because I regret (נחמתי) the fact that I created him."

Rashi, however, appears to offer a non-literal translation, "I will wash away man from the face of the earth... because I have been thinking about what to do about the fact that I created him."

Why did Rashi not render אמחה as "I will obliterate," as it is usually translated, and נחמתי as "I regret"?

The Explanation

If one translates verse 7 literally (like Onkelos), that G‑d planned to obliterate mankind, one will immediately be struck that reality testifies otherwise. Since we are still here to read the story, and there is no evidence that G‑d retracted His plan, it is inconceivable that He actually intended to destroy mankind. Furthermore, in the very next verse we read that "Noach found favor in the eyes of G‑d," which introduces us to the following account of how Noach and his family were saved by G‑d. Obviously, then, G‑d did not decide to "obliterate" mankind.

Therefore, Rashi came to the conclusion that in our verse v¤j§n¤t could not be understood in its usual translation ("obliterate"), but rather it is to be rendered, "I will wash away." I.e., G‑d decreed that He would bring a flood upon mankind, but this did not preclude the possibility of individuals being saved in the ark.

Similarly, Rashi rejected the interpretation that G‑d regretted creating man, as we see that He did indeed allow man's existence to continue through Noach and his family. Therefore, Rashi was forced to adopt a slightly unusual translation, "I have been thinking about what to do about the fact that I created him."

Did G‑d Change His Mind?

One problem with this explanation is that it appears to contradict an earlier comment of Rashi. On verse 6, Rashi writes (in his second interpretation), "G‑d's thoughts of mercy were transformed to judgment," from which it appears that G‑d indeed regretted creating man. How does this correlate with Rashi's stance, as explained above, that G‑d could not possibly have regretted making man since we see that man continues to exist?

The solution to this problem lies in the distinction between Divine "thought" and Divine "speech." In verse 6, "G‑d's thoughts of mercy were transformed to judgment," i.e., He did indeed regret making man, but only in thought. However, in verse 7, "G‑d said, 'I will wash away man, etc.'" From this we see that G‑d was indeed harboring some regret in Himself (in "thought") about creating man, but when He finally issued His decree, in "speech," the harshness of the plan was softened to exclude those who would be saved in the Ark, from which mankind could be reconstructed.

This begs the question: What finally caused G‑d to soften his decree?

This point is answered by the end of the verse itself, "because I have been thinking about what to do about the fact that I created him." I.e., the fact that man was created by G‑d Himself ("I created him") eventually led G‑d to have mercy on His own handiwork.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 15, p. 27ff.)