Skip to content



Parashat Bo

Over the last few years, psychology has discovered and revealed what the Torah has been teaching about human behavior for thousands of years. First, psychology taught that material desires were the main motivation for a person’s actions.  Later, an equally powerful drive,  that of the ego, was recognized.  Finally, the conclusion was reached that the most powerful drive was the search for meaning in life.

The Torah’s view of self-help consistently looks at the person’s psyche on three levels, called נר”ן. Or נשמה רוח נפש. A person has within him three voices, three drives, three angles through which he perceives the world and life. The Neshama is the Soul that searches for meaning; the Ruach is the Ego that searches for honor and social recognition, but also for self-esteem, and the Nefesh is the material drive, and the drive for existence. In his book Real Power, Dr. David Lieberman puts it this way: every action that a person does is motivated by the desire to feel good (Nefesh), to look good (Ruach), or to be good (Neshama). This three-pronged approach is the basis for the most effective treatments, as it works on all three motivational levels. (This is the concept behind R Yitzhak Fanger’s latest book, FHT. The famous books on how to change, SWITCH, and Change Anything.)

For example, I used to think that there are only two main reasons why yeshiva boys don’t do well in Yeshiva. Either there is a learning problem, a lack of learning skills, which results in a lack in connection to learning Torah, or a social problem, lack of social skills, which prevents the boy from connecting to the rest of the yeshiva environment. Either the bachur feels that he is a failure, or he does not feel part of the chevra. But those reasons address only the two levels, the Neshama and the Ruach. There is a much greater problem that drives yeshiva boys out of yeshiva. And that is the Nefesh. The material drive. Something so powerful that it can cause the greatest yeshiva boys to sleep through Shacharit and go days without learning.

We find three different expressions referring to how G-d strengthened the heart of Pharaoh. ויחזק לב פרעה. ואני אקשה את לב פרעה. ויכבד את לבו Why does the Torah use these specific three חיזוק, קישוי, כבד? Don’t they all mean the same thing?

The answer is that each one of the three is referring to one of the three levels of the person’s psyche mentioned earlier. G-d first made Pharaoh’s soul, his wisdom, strong. G-d gave Pharaoh wisdom, but Pharaoh used it in the wrong way, trying to “outsmart” G-d, trying to imitate G-d’s miraculous conducting of the world by using his knowledge of witchcraft. Then, G-d strengthened Pharaoh’s ego, his Ruach. And then, G-d made Pharaoh’s heart, the part of his Nefesh, the materialistic part of Pharaoh’s heart, heavy.

The place in the body that connects with the Neshama is the Moach, the mind. The place in the body that connects with the Ruach is the Lev, the heart. The part of the body that relates to the Nefesh is the Kaved, the liver. (Hence, when a person is using all of his drives in descending order, beginning with the mind, the initials of the words Moach, Lev, and Kaved, form the word Melech, or king. That is how a person feels when he uses the correct order – like a king. But when a person allows his drives to work backwards, giving precedence to his Nefesh, he becomes Kaved, Lev and Moach, or Klum, which, in Hebrew, means nothing. That is how a person feels: like a nothing.)

בֹּ֖א אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כִּֽי־אֲנִ֞י הִכְבַּ֤דְתִּי אֶת־לִבּוֹ֙ Come to Pharaoh, because I have made his heart heavy. “Moshe, the reason why Pharaoh is not going to come running after you now is because I have made his heart heavy. So, the only way you can communicate with him is by you going to him.” Listen closely to the words. When G-d wanted to make Pharaoh complacent, not scared even of the Plague of the Firstborn, He strengthened Pharaoh’s Kaved. Or more precisely, G-d made Pharaoh’s heart into a Kaved. אני הכבדתי את לבו . What does that mean, that G-d made Pharaoh’s heart into a liver? Liver is the only meat that does not soften when cooked: the more heat applied to liver, the harder it gets. Pharaoh lost his heart, he lost his ego, and no matter how foolish he was looking in this game “versus” G-d, he was just in the mode that nothing could move him. He was in the mode of Kaved. The materialistic mode.

The Kotzker Rav draws attention to one word from Rashi and brings to light an amazing concept. The Torah says that at the Plague of the Firstborn, at midnight, when G-d smote all Egyptian firstborn, ויקם פרעה לילה. Pharaoh got up at night, and Rashi says, ממטתו, “from his bed”. The Kotzker asks, what is Rashi adding here? Of course Pharaoh got up from his bed!!! Where else would he be sleeping? The answer is, said the Kotzker, that it is possible for one who becomes Kaved, even if he has been warned and he knows that G-d is going to kill his favorite son that night, to ignore the warning and go to bed. Pharaoh, with all the warnings about the inevitable, was able to just go to sleep! In his bed!

You see, that is what happens when a person lets his Nefesh, his Kaved, take over. It is not about being materialistic in an immoral way. It is about rejecting all responsibility. I don’t have to answer to anyone. Except for myself. Once a person enters his own world, without recognizing anything outside of himself, G-d is forgotten, his wife is forgotten, his children are forgotten. There is nothing else in life but me. So why should he get up before eleven Shabbat morning, Friday morning, or Bein Hazmanim in the morning? The main motive of life, for many, is freedom. Freedom from responsibilities, as if freedom from responsibility is success. This is the third powerful drive for yeshiva boys to lose their connection to learning and fall out of yeshiva.

But this is a huge mistake. Studies have proven, over and over again, that people who come up with great inventions, great artists, great thinkers, do not become great from staying home, from thinking alone, free from people and responsibilities. To release their creative juices, they get out there, meet with people, learn the world, learn what people are dealing with. We grow from responsibilities and relationships, and we shrivel from solitude. And in order for you to have relationships, you need to get out of your bubble. You need to be there for others, feel for others. In order for you to grow in learning, you need to have a study partner, or a Rabbi. You can’t grow alone.

Torah self-help is simple. It is a healthy balance of Neshama, Ruach, and Nefesh.

About the author, Yosef

Leave a Comment