In this week’s Torah portion, “Parshas Vaera/פרשת וארא”, Moshe Rabbeinu confronts Pharaoh, repeating the message from G-d to “Let My people go that they may worship Me.” Pharaoh does not relent and hardens his heart. This repeats for the first five plagues, and then, in response to his willfulness and stubbornness, HaShem hardens his heart for him.
The Hebrew word for “heart” is "לב". To show possession, a suffix to the word is added based on the appropriate pronoun. In this case particular case, when the Torah says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, it uses the word, "לבו", "לב" meaning “heart”, and the "ו" for “his”. This is also the case for the beginning of “Pesukei D’Zimra”, “hymns of glory”, the second section of the Shachrit or Morning service. The second or third prayer is a long prayer which was said each morning in the Temple. At the end of that prayer, from Psalms 13:6, it states “…my heart will rejoice in Your salvation.” “My heart” is spelled similarly, "לבי".
In the “V’Ahavta”, the first paragraph of the Shema, as well as the second, we are admonished not to follow our hearts in making decisions, but rather only pay attention to the commandments. In these two cases, “your heart” is spelled "לבבך" and "לבבכם", respectively (singular and plural). In this case, the word is spelled with two beits instead of one.
The Zohar explains the two beits. Each beit represents our two hearts, the good and the bad. These reflect the yatzer harah and yetzer tov, the evil and good inclinations, respectively. The lesson is that each of us has a choice which inclination to follow.
Why, then, only one beit for Pharaoh? Why also only one beit in the prayer from Psalms that states “…my heart will rejoice in Your salvation”?
Consider that these two situations address only the evil inclination or heart. Since Pharaoh will willful and stubborn, he only focused on the evil inclination. Likewise, it is thus our evil heart that yearns for the salvation, as HaShem helps us turn the evil into good.
The Zohar says that when one pursues evil, the door is opened; when one pursues righteousness, they are led on the way. Our desires and path is thus facilitated in accordance with our desires and actions. Since Pharaoh continued to persecute the Israelites, he only had the evil heart and apparently had no desire to change. We get what we want. According to Rabbinic legend, Pharaoh now stands outside the gates of purgatory and greets newcomers with “did you not learn anything from what happened to me?”.
We all have a choice. We can pursue evil or we can pursue righteousness. We pursue righteousness by adhering and treasuring the commandments. We pursue evil by following our “evil heart” or the bad inclination.
Pharaoh pursued evil. In doing so, he condemned his country and his army. The path of evil leads to evil consequences.