At the beginning of the Torah portion Va’eira, we find G-d saying to Moshe:1 “Pharaoh’s heart is kaveid, he refuses to send the [Jewish] people out.”
Rashi2 explains that kaveid means “hard” and not “hardened.” The verse thus reads: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard…,” rather than “Pharaoh’s heart has become hardened.”
The simple meaning is that the individual is extremely obstinate; nothing moves him. Thus, even when his intellect dictates that he should act differently, and his heart agrees, he simply refuses to do so.
In light of the above we may understand the depth of the Midrashic comment3 on the word kaveid , namely, that Pharaoh’s heart hardened like (the part of the body that is called) kaveid , the liver.
The Zohar4 notes that three organs “rule” the body: the mind, the heart and the liver. This corresponds to the three aspects of intellect (the mind), emotions (the heart), and deed (the liver).
This then is the relationship between the kaveid of being hard of heart and the kaveid of the liver: Obstinacy refers to man’s power of action (which is ruled by the kaveid) — even when there is no intellectual or emotional reason for a certain type of behavior, the person persists, wholly as a result of his obstinacy.
Rashi thus explains that we are to understand that Pharaoh was hard of heart, and not that his heart was hardened, for there are two kinds of obstinacy: a) merely acting in an obstinate and headstrong manner; b) an obduracy such that it not only affects one’s actions, but one’s very being, which becomes intransigent and unyielding to the extent that intractability becomes part of one’s very essence. In this instance, a person not only acts in an obstinate manner, but the source of the obduracy within his soul is revealed within him. As a result, any and all matters in his life are affected by his bullheadedness.
This was the case with Pharaoh: He had no need to fortify himself in order to defy G-d’s will and keep the Jews in Egypt; he was intrinsically obstinate.
The inner reason that G-d visited the plagues upon Pharaoh was to demolish this evil obstinacy.5 Obliteration of an evil trait requires the utilization of a similar holy trait.6 Thus we find that obstinacy exists in holiness as well — in the accepting of the divine yoke in a way that transcends logic and emotions. Service in such an “obstinate” and “obdurate” manner is not subject to change.
When one merely serves out of logic or emotion there will inevitably be varying degrees of service, inasmuch as intellect and emotions are both fluid. However, when one serves with steadfastness and fealty — the sacred form of hard-heartedness — then one’s service will persevere.7
In order to obliterate the obstinacy of evil, it is necessary that holiness be “hard of heart” rather than “hardened of heart.” For in acceptance of the divine yoke as well there are two general conditions:8
One can accept the divine yoke as a simple servant accepts his master’s yoke — though the servant would much rather fulfill his own desires and has no longing and desire to fulfill his master’s will, he forces himself to go against his own will. This kind of divine service is lower than serving with pleasure, intellect or emotions.
But there is also a loftier form of acceptance, wherein the individual’s service is not limited by his powers of delight, intellect, etc., rather he gives himself totally to G-d, beyond any measure or limitation.
The former style of service is called “hardening one’s heart” — it is not the essence of the person that accepts the divine yoke. The latter style involves being “hard of heart,” so that the essential trait of spiritual hard-heartedness succeeds in vanquishing the obstinacy of evil and transforming it into holiness.
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XXXI, pp. 28-33.
The Future is Now
The Torah portion of Va’eira contains four expressions of redemption: “I will take you out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” “I will take [you to Me].” These correspond to the redemptions from the Egyptian and three subsequent exiles.
So the expression that follows,9 “and I will bring you” implies a special, superior quality in the era of the future Redemption. Yet since even this fifth expression is mentioned in the context of the redemption from Egypt, it follows that the future Redemption in fact began with the exodus from Egypt.
The Gemara states:10 “R. Yochanan said, ‘[Man is liable] for his fire, because it is like his arrow.’ ” This means that as soon as one has kindled a fire, he is liable for any resulting damages.
It would seem clear that when a fire causes damage, it is because the person that started it is powerless to intervene. Yet circumstances beyond a person’s control usually mean an exemption from responsibility. Why, then, should one be liable for one’s out-of-control fire?
The liability, however, is for having lit the fire voluntarily in the first place. Liability for any damage that arises from a voluntary act is implied in the act itself.
“The measure of goodness exceeds that of punishment.”11 Since damage is seen to have resulted from the initial kindling of the fire, surely this retroactive quality applies to voluntary goodness as well. Thus, from the very moment that G-d promised “I shall bring you” (which refers to the highest level of the future Redemption), this eventuality must in some way have already come to pass.
It would seem, however, that this premise relates only to human actions and not to G-d, for once fire leaves a person’s hand he can no longer control it. G-d, however, is always in full control.
This being so, one can argue that G-d’s promise “I will bring you,” does not necessarily imply that the result has already been achieved, because as long as the promise has not actually been realized, G-d can seemingly change His mind.
In fact, while G-d has been known to revoke and annul negative decrees, He never repents of good ones.12 Since “I shall bring you” is certainly a good decree, it is irrevocable; analogous to fire that has left a person’s hand.
To be sure, the very idea of compulsion or restriction is altogether inapplicable to G-d. Nevertheless, it was G-d’s own will — i.e. it is entirely voluntary — that He never revoke a good decree.
There is an important lesson here in terms of our spiritual service:
When a person realizes that the loftiest levels of the future Redemption through Moshiach already exist, though merely unrevealed , then the person’s service becomes much easier. The individual can more easily overcome all obstructions and hindrances in this world in general, and during the conclusion of this final exile in particular.
For in reality, all obstructions and hindrances to Torah and mitzvos are ultimately unreal — concealments which serve to arouse man’s latent abilities to serve G-d.
Moreover, as the Redemption can be said to be already upon us, those concealments and obstructions can be treated as if they are unreal; they truly do not exist.
When we realize that we are dealing with mere illusion (and thus are unaffected by it), we will act with vigor and holiness, and such action will remove even the appearance of concealment.
We will then realize how everything that happened, even things that seemed adverse at the time, were for the good, and ultimately even “for the best.”13
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, pp. 125-127.
1. .Shmos 7:14.
3. .Shmos Rabbah 9:8. See also Midrash Lekach Tov on this verse as well as Shmos Rabbah 13:3, and also Hemshech 5672, Vol. I, p. 505.
4. II, 153a; Zohar Chadosh, Rus, p. 80a.
5. See Torah Or, Va’eira, p. 57a; Or HaTorah , Va’eira (Vol. VII) p. 2,606ff.
6. See Tanya ch. 31.
7. See Or HaTorah , Bo p. 248. See also Torah Or, p. 89b and at length in Hemshech 5666 p. 321ff.
8. See Sefer HaMaamarim 5687, p. 8ff.; 5702 p. 8; 5708 p. 4, with regard to the difference between accepting the divine yoke on Rosh HaShanah , as opposed to accepting it during the rest of the year.
9. Shmos 6:8.
10. Bava Kamma 22a.
11. Yoma 76a.
12. Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:4.
13. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, Sicha for the Torah portion of Savo.