In the secular world, a human being is mostly thought of as consisting of a body and some kind of spiritual component. A lot of the current understanding of how these "parts" interact comes from the greek period - I think. The Human consisting of a body that is subject to desires and sin and a spiritual part which is more or less capable to counter those tendencies and a soul in between for humans to choose which side they want to incline towards.

While reading it occured to me that this view might not fit very well into how the Torah portraits humans. For one, Bereshit 2:7 says, that humans did not get a nephesh, they became a living nephesh when G-d breathed his nshamah into him. In 9:4 it says, that blood is the sign of the nephesh (so not a completely spiritual/invisible thing) and contrary to the greek idea, a nephesh can be both alive (Bereshit 2:7) and dead (Vayiqra 21:11) and therefore is (or seems to be) not eternal as the greeks understood it. And besides the nephesh, we also have G-ds ru'ach in us (Bereshit 6:3), which we can apparently loose (and die), but e.g. Iyyobh 4:9, 27:3, 32:8 suggest that they (ru'ach & nephesh) both convey the same idea or concept. Maybe the heart fits better into the role of deciding whether to follow G-ds commands or our own desires (e.g. Mishlei 16:9, 19:3, 20:9 in contrast to the Shema Yisrael)?

And we haven't even touched the spiritual part (which provides the will to follow G-d). Is it something in us? Or is it just by studying the Torah that our desires somehow change? What about Yehezqiel 36:26-27? Is the heart the thing that provides the will?

As you might have guessed by now I'm currently not quite grasping how the Tanakh understands humans and have a difficult time to wrap my head around this different mode of thinking about this topic. I would be thankfull for any attempt to clarify the different roles of the different aspects or parts of a human being.

Also feel free to add some more tags, I didn't find any that seemed to fit.


This is a very complex topic about which books have been written, but I'll try my best to give a quick introduction. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that in Hebrew some words can be used both broadly and narrowly, so context matters.

There are three words for the soul that can be used somewhat interchangeably: Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah. All three are related to the concept of breath or blowing. Nefesh usually is considered the lowest form of the soul: the basic life force that keeps people or animals alive. Thus it is used in Genesis to refer to animals too. As you point out, there are verses that specifically connect the Nefesh with the blood.

In Vayikra, Nefesh is used to refer to a dead body to teach that the minimum amount of blood necessary to keep someone alive also transmits impurity the same as a corpse. As the Mizrachi explains, since a revi'is of blood is the amount that maintains the Nefesh, the term Nefesh can also apply to a revi'is of blood.

The Lev or heart sometimes refers to the intellect, but it also often refers to human desires. In the Shma, we are warned not to stray after our hearts. The Sages interpreted that as referring both to physical desire and idolatrous thoughts. The verses in Ezekiel prophecy that at a later date G-d will purify us of our physical desires, allowing us to focus more on spiritual matters.

As to how all this fits with Greek philosophy, an introduction to the topic can come from Nachmanides's commentary to the first mention of soul in the Bible. See also Rabbeinu Bechaye there and Maimonides introduction to Tractate Avot (known as the Eight Chapters).

  • 1
    Thank you. I know that this is a complex topic but I appreciate the pointers for further research into that area.
    – CShark
    Apr 20 '21 at 7:28

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