Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Our Sages teach that God’s messengers, the angels, help a person in the direction she or he chooses to go, for good or for evil. How does this relate to Pharaoh’s hardened heart?
So Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the LORD had foretold through Moses. -Ex. 9:35
The Torah warns us not to blindly follow our heart’s desires. The name “Israel” is an anagram for "Rosh Li" / “my head,” indicating that our mind is capable of ruling over our heart and controlling our destructive passions. Pharaoh, the Egyptian ruler, allowed himself to become captive to the wicked desires of his heart, which overrode his intellectual capacity.
Tanya explains that the title “Pharaoh” is connected to the word "Periah" / “removing” as is used in relation to the mitzvah of bris milah, removing the skin through circumcision. Rather than control his desires, Pharaoh smothered his heart in layers of sin after sin, in such a thick covering that he brought upon himself Timtum Halev, a spiritual hardening of the heart.
We can take steps to prevent this from happening to us.
Foremost among them is the bedtime routine of Shema, which includes a nightly examination of our deeds. I like to refer to this as “flossing", just as one must floss their teeth to get rid of build-up; "flossing" the heart cleans it from the accumulation of plaque-like sins and creates space for the return of our spiritual sensitivity. This nightly repentance acts like a wind that pushes away the thick clouds and lets the sun’s rays shine brightly.
The rest of the bedtime service is comprised of prayers and Psalms that remind us of G-d’s presence and protection in our lives, and strengthen our determination to do better the next morning. It’s like taking vitamins to protect against spiritual insensitivity.
So, say Shema tonight, and drift into sleep joyfully.
Knowing that your head is leading your heart, and you are in G-d’s hands.
You can also find this article on the 'The Jewish Journal: Table for Five' https://jewishjournal.com/judaism/327373/table-for-five-vaeira/, and the 'Accidental Talmudist' https://www.accidentaltalmudist.org/torah/2021/01/13/why-did-god-harden-pharaohs-heart-vaeira/