The Torah (Vayikra 16:31) says "וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֑ם, You shall afflict yourselves." - this is a reference to Yom Kippur. Artscroll translates נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֑ם to mean yourselves, but literately, the word נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֑ם means your souls. On Yom Kippur we are abstaining from physical pleasures. Our bodies are physical and are souls are spiritual.

Why doesn't the Torah say וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם אֶת־גופיכֶ֑ם, You shall afflict your bodies? For if anything, we depriving our bodies from food and drink not our souls?

  • What if נפשותיכם meant literally your throats? That would make a lot of sense, actually.
    – Double AA
    Nov 11, 2014 at 4:19

1 Answer 1


The word נפש is not limited to mean strictly "souls." It often means something along the lines of "life force" or "being." When someone kills someone else, the Torah refers to it as having struck the נפש - as in אדרוש את נפש האדם of Bereishit 9, or מכה נפש of Bamidbar 35, or רצחו נפש of Devarim 22. נפש תחת נפש (Vayikra 24) seems to mean "a life for a life."

ועניתם את נפשותכם then would mean to afflict your life, or your life-force, which means to weaken it through abstaining from that which provides it with sustenance.

The Malbim (in הכרמל, under "נפש") shows that נפש often refers to the body, and sometimes even to a dead body. See it here.

נפש is not an alternative choice to גוף - it is the Biblical word used for it. גוף only appears in one verse in Tanach, in the context of meaning a corpse.

  • So people can find it in case the link dies. Nice answer!
    – MTL
    Nov 11, 2014 at 4:19
  • Then what is the difference between גוף and נפש? Nov 11, 2014 at 5:52
  • @ChiddusheiTorah I assume you are asking on the Malbim's explanation. In my first point, the difference is obvious. But the truth is, the word גוף does not appear in Tanach. The Biblical word for it is "נפש" Nov 11, 2014 at 18:47
  • What is difference between נפש and נשמה? Nov 11, 2014 at 23:37
  • @ChiddusheiTorah Why don't you ask? Nov 12, 2014 at 4:11

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