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.