How do you harden a heart?

HichBadeti et Libo-  Hardened his heart, Biblical Word Study,
Torah Portion of BO  Exodus 10:1–13:16,

Moshe Kempinski, | updated: 15:10

Judaism Torah scroll
Torah scroll
צילום: PR

 We read in the beginning of the Torah portion of "Bo" the following;

Hashem said to Moshe: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened (HichBadeti) his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst,and in order that you tell into the ears of your son and your son's son how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and [that you tell of] My signs that I placed in them, and you will know that I am Hashem."  (Exodus 10:1-2)

We read throughout the Ten plagues of the concept of a hardened heart (Yachbed et Liboi) and of a strengthened heart (Yichazek et Libo). The responses to all the ten plagues move from the use of the one word  to the other.

Yet if in fact G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart how could the All-Just G-d punish Pharaoh for the decisions influenced by that hardened heart ?

It is clear from the verses that after each of the first five plagues, Pharaoh is the one who hardens his own heart.

"And Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Hashem had spoken. (Exodus 7:13).Then again; "But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as Hashem had spoken.(ibid 8:11) This is followed by; "Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh: 'This is the finger of G-d'; and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Hashem had spoken. (ibid:15) And; “And Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go. (ibid:28). Finally we read; “... But the heart of Pharaoh was stubborn, and he did not let the people go. (ibid 9:7)

Yet the question remains. If following those five times, it was G-d hardening Pharaoh’s heart, how could Pharaoh be punished for his resultant obstinacy?

Perhaps a deeper understanding of the Hebrew word for Hardening - VaYichbad would shed light on this question.

Throughout Tanach, the derivatives of the rootword Chabed relates not to the hardening of one’s heart but is related to the concept of “honor and glory”.

“Honor (Chabed)  your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that Hashem, your G-d, is giving you. (Exodus 20:11)

“Then Moshe said to Aaron, "This is what Hashem spoke, [when He said], 'I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified (Echabed) .' " And Aaron was silent.(Leviticus 10:3)

“If you do not observe to fulfill all the words of this Torah, which are written in this scroll, to fear this glorious (HaNichbad)  and awesome name, Hashem, your G-d," (Deuteronomy 28:58)

How then does that understanding relate to the idea of “hardening one's heart” ?

Our lives in this world at times seem to follow a convoluted path beset with obstacles and detours. As a result we tend to prefer to deal with and revere the”here and now,” things that we can understand and perhaps control . We feel a desperate need to live in situation and perceived existence wherein we can  drag all of reality into the small  boxes and vessels we have created for ourselves.

Yet in order to deal with the complex quality of our lives and be open to new understanding and opportunities we need to do the opposite. We need to develop the courage and the humility to look outside the safe fortresses we have built.

When Moshe is wandering in the wilderness of Midian he encounters a supernatural sight. He sees a small bush that was burning with fire and yet was not consumed.

An angel of Hashem appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn bush, and  behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed.   So Moshe said, "Let me turn now and see this great spectacle why does the thorn bush  not burn up?" Hashem saw that he had turned to see, and G-d called to him from within  the thorn bush, and He said, "Moshe, Moshe!" And he said, "Here I am!"(Exodus 3:2-4)

There is great significance to the words "Hashem saw that he had turned to see, ".  G-d clearly was waiting for that determined choice of Moshe to step into his destiny. After that choice  and only after that choice, G-d began to talk to him.

That is a lesson for all mankind. The Divine destiny awaits our humble turning in and seizing that opportunity.

Yet if one is filled with a sense of being the embodiment of “honor and glory” then it is very difficult to step out of that self-delusion. Everything must continue to fit the narrative created for oneself.

So let us return to pharaoh.

The Ramban ( Nachmanides) suggests that after the fifth plague, when the suffering became so intolerable it may be that Pharaoh wanted to free the Jews. This was not because Pharaoh had finally accepted the power of Hashem, but rather because he could no longer tolerate the punishments. In fact the five plagues had consistently battered Pharaoh and his people to the point wherein they had no more free will and no power to choose.

As a result Hashem had to harden Pharaoh’s heart, not to take away his power of choice, but rather to return it. So in essence Hashem was not hardening his heart as much as refilling it with Pharaoh’s  own sense of his personal honor and glory . HichBadeti et Libo could then read as Hashem saying that He refilled with his heart with Pharoah’s battered sense of self importance. This is because Pharaoh had to be able to make a choice devoid of the repercussions of the plagues that had devastated Egypt until this day. He had to make a free choice without the facts of the miraculous plagues getting in the way.

So G-d hardened his heart and gave him the ability to withstand all that he had witnessed. As a result his decision to continue to enslave the Jews would be a function of free choice and therefore he would be culpable.

As result he who declared "Who is Hashem that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know Hashem, neither will I let Israel out."(Exodus 5:2) will be the one that Hashem will use to make His name known throughout Egypt and throughout the world.

That was true then at the time of Exodus and will be true as the history of destiny unfolds around us in these tumultuous times.

Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther

Attachments area





top