The Anatomy of an Egyptian King
1. The Lord said to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst,
א. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת לִבּוֹ וְאֶת לֵב עֲבָדָיו לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה בְּקִרְבּוֹ:
ב. וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם וְאֶת אֹתֹתַי אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בָם וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
Famously, before every single makah/plague, the Torah HaKedosha tells us that HaKadosh Barukh Hu hardened the heart of Paroh, refusing to free Benei Yisrael in order for Paroh to receive punishment for this. We learn this as ‘VaYekhaved HaShem et lev Paroh’.
If we are honest with ourselves, this doesn’t seem fair! How could HaShem Yitbarakh possible hold Pharaoh accountable for a decision that was not even his? At His strictest, HaShem is still a GD of justice! How could an entire nation be destroyed out on the basis of a decision influenced by a force outside Paroh’s control?
Look closely at the Torah’s vernacular. The Torah specifically uses the word ‘va’ye’kaved’, meaning to make heavy and not ‘va’ye’hazek’, which means to make strong or tough, as used in other instances in the Torah. The pasuk can also be read a different way. Says Shemot Rabbah, instead of looking at it as HaShem making Paroh’s heart heavy, let us consider the word kaved in its alternate translation: as ‘liver’. HaShem metaphorically transforms Paroh’s heart into his liver. This is why Paroh was deserving of a punishment; he brought it upon himself using his liver instead of his heart.
I realize this isn’t a biology lesson, but a Devar Torah, so allow me to elaborate on why Paroh’s organs are of such importance to us here.
The composite human spirit is divided among the various organs of a person. The lowest and most animalistic component of the human spirit is the nefesh, which is responsible for human drives and desires such as eating and reprodution. The nefesh is most heavily concentrated in the liver, and by extension, in the blood. As most of us nerds know, the liver is responsible for the breakdown and distribution of food in the blood as well as ridding the blood of all negative toxins.
The step above nefesh is the ruah, located in the mind. In Torah and Halakha, we refer to the mind as ‘lev’ which is more popularly known as the heart. Nevertheless, their function is the same: to make decisions. The lev is responsible for our deeds and actions. The Vilna Gaon explains that the heart is ‘king’ and rules over a person’s decisions and desires.
Which one of ours is stronger? Do our minds guide us or our desires veer us away from the right decision? What happens sometimes is that the byproduct of our kaved, our liver, can overtake the function of our lev, our heart/mind. Sometimes, our desires are too strong and they cloud our intellectual judgment, disallowing us to make a logical and proper decision. Rabbi Label Lam brings the Sefer Heshbon HaNefesh, which writes ‘The animal spirit has a short attention span. It observes the world with material eyes, seeing only that which is close, obvious, and immediate…The intellectual human spirit is in constant danger of itself being swallowed up by the desires of the animal spirit.’ Paroh allowed his kaved/desires to reign when he was making his decision not to free Benei Yisrael instead of using his lev/mind to make this decision. ‘Va’ye’kaved lev Paroh’; his heart acted as his liver-his intellect submitted to his desires. This is why he was deserving of such punishment, not once, but ten times.
In life, we must make sure that our intellect governs our actions and it is not our desires that direct them. Just like when a liver grows back when it is cut off, desires can keep coming back even when they are seemingly eradicated, and we must not fall victim to our temporary desires because they will continue to keep growing. The only thing we can do is widen our intellect and solidify it so that it will grow stronger than our desires and be able to take over and lead the way. Making decisions with our intellect will certainly yield more auspicious results. There is a reason why the heart lays over the liver in the human body.
Be’Ezrat HaShem Yitbarakh, may we all develop the proper koah and mindset in order to overcome our desires and realize that they are only momentary, in order to make proper decisions in life with our MINDS and LEVAVOT that will only allow us to become closer and closer to HaKadosh Barukh Hu.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh! Make it special!