Regrets – Bersehit 5784

D'var Torah | Genesis

In his 2022 book entitled The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward Daniel Pink, a human behavioral scientist, identifies four core categories of regrets: foundation regrets, boldness regrets, moral regrets, and connection regrets.  Foundation regrets center on stability: stable finances, stable health, stable careers. Boldness regrets pivot on the question “If I only I had taken the chance to…” Moral regrets center on feelings of failure to live up to one’s moral code, whatever that may be. And connection regrets have to do with people drifting away from others who were once important in their lives. Having regrets is not a failing, Pink argues, but a wake-up call for personal improvement.

After considerable scrutiny, it would appear that Pink’s four categories are not as comprehensive as he believes. Consider the biblical narrative appearing near the beginning of chapter 6 of the book of Genesis. God observes the wickedness of humanity and regretfully resolves to erase human life. God, it seems, had every expectation that humanity would rise to the highest level of moral conduct being endowed with free will. Yet God is sadly disappointed. His expectations, having gone unmet, leads to a profound feeling of regret. If a name were to be given to the category of regret suggested by the narrative, perhaps it would be trust regrets, that is, when one feels let down by others calling into question one’s faith in others – an error in judgment.

To be sure, ascribing an error in judgment to God is a theological taboo. If God is omniscient, it would be impossible and “ungodly” for God’s judgment to be deficient. But perhaps one need not go so far as to call into question God’s knowledge.  After all, the Rabbis teach that the purpose of the biblical narratives is to throw light on human behavior, not God’s. In this case God may be the subject of the narrative but it is humanity that is the audience.

The consequence of reading the text this way is to remind us that life is often replete with disappointments, particularly when describing human conduct. Human beings sometimes fail to live up to expectations. God has the luxury of starting anew. Humanity does not. Human beings must learn to accept trust regrets. And while we ought to try our best to invest trust in those who are worthy, the fact is that sometimes that judgment is proven to be mistaken. The lesson learned can only help to make us more discerning in the future.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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