I have hardened his heart…
Chazal pounce on the similarity between the words “hardened”/ hichbadeti and “liver”/kaveid. How was Paroh’s heart hardened? Hashem made it like liver, they say. When you recook it, hardness enters into it. G-d forbid to think that this is some empty play on words. If you do, you underestimate the penetrating vision of our chachamim.
If a person loses sight in an eye, we do not say that he has lost the wisdom of sight. We understand that something is fundamentally wrong with his eye. We should also realize, say Chazal, that when we find ourselves constantly changing our mind-set, it is not because we “understand” things differently when conditions change ever so slightly. Rather, it is because our hearts are dysfunctional.
Chazal inventory a large number of functions of the heart, as they are given in verses throughout Tanach. The heart sees. The heart is comforted. It grieves, becomes strengthened, becomes softened. It becomes prideful, or desirous, or strays, or is humbled. The heart fears, loves, hates, and is jealous. Sometimes the heart is on fire; sometimes it changes to stone.
The heart, when it functions as designed, does all those things. If a person slacks off in his fear of Hashem, the proper diagnosis is not a lack of yir’ah, but a malfunctioning heart. A proper heart will fear, and its owner will be conscious of that fear. The consciousness of fear does not ordinarily arise on its own, or through insight. It is dictated by the heart.
The Torah continues on from our pasuk. “So that you may relate in your son’s ears, and to your son’s son that which I amused myself with Mitzrayim.” Think about it. Paroh’s behavior is genuinely amusing. The man takes a position, and then reverses it. And reverses it again, and again. He is tossed between successive waves of changed terms and conditions, and completely loses control of his own reactions. He believes that he reacts intelligently to every change taking place – a new makah, the cessation of a makah, an offer from Moshe, a period of relief between makos – but comically does not realize that it is not his logical mind responding at all. He is prisoner to the desires of his heart, and nothing more. When his heart is moved by those changing circumstances, his mind slavishly follows its directive. What the heart wants at the moment, his mind tells him is logical.
No wonder that he did not accept Hashem’s Word when delivered to him. It was not his mind that was doing the accepting and processing of the information. It was his heart, a heart that was not functioning as a heart should, but whose passages were clogged and blocked – and that behaved more like overcooked liver.
This is strong stuff. We need to understand how often we are in a similar position. We look back at decisions we’ve made, and regret our poor judgment. But our judgment never really entered into the decision. Rather, our hearts – which control so much more of our lives than we are ready to accept – require some spiritual bypass surgery. Perhaps, at times, even a transplant.
- Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, Shemos pgs. 93-96 ↑
- Shemos 10:1 ↑
- Shemos Rabbah 13:3 ↑
- Koheles Rabbah 1:16 ↑