Bible and Kabbalah: The Hardening of Pharoahs Heart

There is continuous creation, out of the new ideas discovered in the Torah.

Zohar, Genesis, Introduction, 52


Students of Kabbalah understand the Torah (Hebrew Bible) as a mystical book wherein the Kabbalistic system is embodied in allegories and symbols. Thus, the Torah and the Kabbalah are dependent on and complete each other. . The illumination emanating from the study ignites the soul, setting it on fire with the awareness of a deeper and Higher Reality. Its study and insights are themselves mystical experiences.


"Come to Pharoah, for I have hardened his heart" (Exodus 10:1)

In this week's Torah portion, we read that G-d hardens Pharoah's heart. In Hebrew thought, the heart is the core of a person, the seat of emotions, intellect and will. Regarding the above Biblical verse several questions must be raised: If G-d was controlling Pharoah's heart, then Pharoah had no choice to do what he did and was therefore not really making his own decisions. Why then blame Pharoah for anything? Additionally, where is the Free Will in all this?

The following commentaries based on Judaism's Hasidic tradition shed some very interesting insight into the entire Biblical account, and of course, into ourselves.

It will comprise of three sections, with each section introducing a Spiritual Law:

? First Law - Light is Impartial

? Second Law - Law of Accountability

? Third Law - Law of Correction


The following is a beginning point, taught as a fundamental principle by RabbiNachman of Breslov:

"From the mouth of the Most High comes neither good nor bad. What emanates is a simple Light. However, according to the level of the vessel that receives the Light, so is Light inside formed and perceived."

In other words, Reb Nachman is saying the following:

Light, as revealed in our world, is not selective, nor does it discriminate. It is present in It's entirety at all times and in all places. This Light follows the direction we put our attention and energy. Since this Light is all-inclusive and all-pervading, we have a responsibility with where we focus our attention.

Since Light does not discriminate as to where It is led, then why could It not be the very energy behind the hardening of Pharoah's heart? It is Pharoah who is choosing to harden his heart, Light is just the energy he is using towards his own decisions. As it says in the Talmud, "The door shall be opened for one who comes knocking to defile himself" (Masechet Yoma: 38b)

This is where free choice comes in. According to the Torah, we are even given "assistance" even to make the wrong choices. Again, this is because the Light does not discriminate. It gives of Itself to all.

With this in mind, the following Hasidic commentary comes as a very interesting point to WHY Pharoah needed G-d's Light to harden his own heart:

"Pharoah needed to be strengthened by G-d in order to keep his composure and make his own choices. Moses and Aaron, were after all, great tzaddikim (holy sages), full of signs and wonders. It would have been impossible not to surrender to them had not Pharoah's heart been made stronger by G-d." (Source: Rabbi Eliezer Ish Horowitz in Noam Megadim).

This idea of G-d being the fuel behind even one's misdirected, foolish and evil intentions may be shocking, but it is not something new. Our tradition recognizes that conscious thought is the starting point of every new creation, and since our world is a Free Will Zone, we have a responsibility of where we direct and focus our thoughts/energy.

In other words, Torah teaches us personal accountability that must be taken with great sensitivity and awareness, as we come to realize what a tremendous power we have at our conscious disposal. Learning from Pharoah's misuse of Spiritual Law, we need to do the opposite, as we shall soon see.


Since Light is impartial, does this justify Pharoah's position? Absolutely not.

The Zohar (3:47b) states, "The greatest revelation of G-dliness is the Light that emerges from Darkness." Thus we see that not only is there value to darkness - but when we attempt to draw Light out from it, it becomes the GREATEST display of G-dliness.

Reb Tzadok HaCohen adds the following insight regarding darkness:

"The (Hebrew) word for darkness - choshech can be read in two different ways,(depending on whether we read the interchangeable middle letter as a shin or a sin) A dot on the right side will give us the word choshech-darkness. A dot on the left will yield the word chosech-to withhold. What then is darkness but the withholding of Light?"

If darkness is the withholding of Light, our job in the world then becomes to reveal it.

A good place to begin is within ourselves.

"Every time you find yourself at conflict with a part of yourself that is self sabotaging -the Pharoah part - remember that the force of might that is behind this destructive part is really an unconscious and misdirected power, a "hardening" of G-d. When you unravel the hardened heart, you will discover that the intention is pure and the power is G-dly, and thus, transformable." - Rabbi Avraham of Trisk (Magen Avraham)

What happens to those, such as Pharoah, who do not seek to "unravel the hardened heart"?

When one does not take a personal accountability of their resistances to change, it is inevitable that plagues break out. It took 10 plagues until Pharoah, the archetype of resistance, was able to surrender to the inevitable change that awaited him.

This introduces us to our Second Law - the Law of Accountability.


In order to understand the Metaphysics behind the Law of Accountability we need to further understand what our role is in dealing with Light and Darkness.

According to Judaism's mystical tradition, when we encounter darkness, we have an option by which we are held accountable: to either push it away or to transform it. The difference is the following:

"When light PUSHES AWAY the darkness, eventually another darkness shall come. When the darkness itself is TRANSFORMED into light, it is a Light that no darkness can ever again oppose. It is a higher grade of Light" (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson).

The Pharoah of the Torah text not only neglects to transform his darkness into light, or even push it away, but resists it, and thus becomes further hardened by it, as a result.

Again, this Pharoah part of ourselves is in truth a Divine part of ourselves but one that remains blocked and unevolved.

The greater the resistance to the Moshe (Moses) liberating force within, the more we witness on ourselves strange behaviors, violent demonstrations of wrath, and crazy outbreaks of irrationality - in other words - plagues.


The universe shows us that our daily encounters in the world will persuade us to embrace our inner contradictions, challenge us to make compromises while offering us the reward of wholeness if we surrender to Reality.

Like Pharoah, when we resist what we perceive as an opposition or threat to our reality, we inevitably attract and must face conflict.

Like Pharoah, when we are unable to take appropriate actions, we inevitably become the victims of Life's correction.

Like Pharoah, whatever we refuse to embrace about ourselves will ultimately deprive us of our peace.

G-d indeed hardens Pharoah's heart and indeed punishes him. But G-d is not the one to blame for it. Pharoah is.

The text implies that during the first five plagues, Pharoah hardened his own heart. It was not until the end of the plagues that the text changes to "G-d hardening Pharoah's heart".

This is because although we are given free choice in this universe, it is only up to a point.

In Kabbalah we have what is called, "The Law of the Vessel" or "Law of Correction" which means, the universe (Vessel) has within it a self correcting mechanism. When anything reaches an extreme, the Universe corrects it by brining it back into balance. When a body gets too cold, it shivers. When it gets too hot, it sweats. Likewise, according to the Law of the Vessel, if someone decides to do harm of their own volition, they are given free reign to do just that (which is the nature of free choice), but there'll come a point where their ability to freely make their own wrongful moral and spiritual choices will be taken away from them, and both that person and their acts of evil will be undone. Therefore, as our Sages have taught, our Universe is comprised of a delicate balance, perfect in its own way, of both Mercy and Justice - Chesed and Gevurah.

In the meantime, let us continue moving forward with honesty, humility and a willingness to be advocates for G-d's Light. Tomorrow still holds many seas to cross, a wilderness to wander, and a Promised Land that awaits both you and I.

Rabbi Michael Ozair

Copyright 2003 ? Rabbi Michael Ozair

Rabbi Michael Ozair is a spiritual life coach, Kabbalah teacher, counselor and consultant who specializes in Life Purpose and Difficult Transitions coaching. He can be reached at [email protected] or by visiting his site at

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