Hardening the Heart vs. Weighing it Down

So, I recently noticed that the translation of Unqelus I am using offers “hardened Par’oh’s heart” and the like regardless of whether the original word ויחזק (Aramaic: ואתקף) or another word built from \חזק\ or whether it was ויכבד (Aramaic: ויקר) or some other conjugation of \כבד\. I guess “חזק”, strengthened, could refer to hardening, although the Targum’s “ואתקף” refers to physical or emotional strength. In contrast, כבד would relate to weight. (Or honor or livers, I guess.)

But these two Hebrew words are two very different things.

Lead is a fairly heavy metal. But softer than most, it can be scratched with a thumbnail. Diamonds are among the hardest substances known, even when just a carat or two in weight.

Rav Yisrael Salanter, in Or Yisrael (Letter #30) talks about three stages to fixing a middah.

1- Hargashah is feeling, being aware that something is off in oneself. Noticing the problem and that it is a problem.

2- From there, was is capable of kibush hayeitzer, conquering the yeitzer hara in this area. Rav Yisrael uses this to refer to being able to act and do the right thing despite the yeitzer hara‘s temptation. The flawed calling is still there, but it is overcome.

3- Finally, through acclimation of a long period of kibush hayeitzer even the desire or broken middah is gone. The will is aligned with the ideal.

The first two steps are on route to tiqun hayeitzer, where correcting one’s mental state is the final goal.

I think the language the chumash uses highlights how Par’oh was prevented from doing teshuvah by showing us when and how each of these steps was prevented.

When Par’oh’s heart was made chazaq, we are speaking about the inability of the extraordinary events he was exposed to to make an impression on him. The heart was rendered incapable of hargashah. Par’oh finds excuses like, “the magicians can do that too!”

Whereas something that is heavy is hard to move. A heart that was made kaveid might take in the experiences, but it has its own inertia and momentum and stays the course. Stubbornness and spite being used to stick to one’s guns even though you see that you’re headed in the wrong direction. The heart that is kaveid is incapable of kibbush hayeitzer.

In our own lives too… Sometimes I just don’t face the facts. Sometimes I see the facts, but just cannot bring ourselves to act on them. To admit being wrong, or lose authority, or face embarrassment, or just leave my comfort zone.

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