Both Humans and animals seem to have:

  • Flesh: (Bereshit 6:13) The ketz (end) of kol basar is come before Me.
  • Nefesh Chaya: (Bereshit 1:30) wherein is a Nefesh Chaya
  • Ruach Chayim: (Bereshit 6:17 & 7:15) destroy kol basar, wherein is the ruach chayim... (Bereshit 7:22) All in whose nostrils was the ruach chayim.

It seems that only the Neshamah the Nishmat Chayim that was blown in the human body (Bereshit 2:7). It seems that this part is the Nefesh Elokit (G-dly soul), while the parts that seem the same as animals is the Nefesh Behamit (animal soul). But i read there's also the Nefesh Hasichlit (intelectual) that connect the both or exist in between the other two.

I find it all very confusing: what is it really that distinguishes humans from animals? Is it our consiousness?, Our intellectual ability?, our spiritual mindset? meta-cognition?


3 Answers 3


Neshama - based on Nusach Sefard , by Korbonos, right before Kriyas Shema where there are some additional words ומותר האדם מן הבהמה אין כי הכל הבל, לבד הנשמה הטהורה

I heard in the name of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin Zatzal - ומותר האדם מן הבהמה אין - a person is more than an animal with the "אין" - a person can say no - that a person can have self control, which an animal does not.


Kohelet - Ecclesiastes - Chapter 3

  1. For there is a happening for the children of men, and there is a happening for the beasts-and they have one happening-like the death of this one is the death of that one, and all have one spirit, and the superiority of man over beast is nought, for all is vanity. יט. כִּי מִקְרֶה בְנֵי הָאָדָם וּמִקְרֶה הַבְּהֵמָה וּמִקְרֶה אֶחָד לָהֶם כְּמוֹת זֶה כֵּן מוֹת זֶה וְרוּחַ אֶחָד לַכֹּל וּמוֹתַר הָאָדָם מִן הַבְּהֵמָה אָיִן כִּי הַכֹּל הָבֶל:
  2. All go to one place; all came from the dust, and all return to the dust. כ. הַכֹּל הוֹלֵךְ אֶל מָקוֹם אֶחָד הַכֹּל הָיָה מִן הֶעָפָר וְהַכֹּל שָׁב אֶל הֶעָפָר:
  3. Who knows that the spirit of the children of men is that which ascends on high and the spirit of the beast is that which descends below to the earth? כא. מִי יוֹדֵעַ רוּחַ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם הָעֹלָה הִיא לְמָעְלָה וְרוּחַ הַבְּהֵמָה הַיֹּרֶדֶת הִיא לְמַטָּה לָאָרֶץ:

There is nothing that distinguishes us from animals other than Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hara. The two of them together are what we know as the divine image imparted upon Adam at creation.

  • I'm not sure whether thats true or not. Maybe the drives, urges, impulses or instinct to hurt humans by animals could be called a Yetzer HaRah as well, or the drives etc. that lead to protecting and saving humans could be called Yetzer HaTov.. unless the Yetzer Tov and HaRah are of the mind and not of the heart/body. From a Biological, philosophical and anthropological perspective for example, humans are always distinguished from animals (and other living things) because of their mind functioning. Humans seems to use their brains in a fashion or level that no animal could reach.
    – J.Levi
    Feb 7, 2015 at 14:26
  • I agree completely with what you are saying, but do animals have a concept of morality? When you scold a dog by saying "bad dog", does the dog really understand the moral implications of what "bad" is? If the idea of humans having morality and animals lacking it doesn't satisfy your question, then you are looking for a deeper and more esoteric answer. To be honest, I'm not really sure you will find a scriptural answer that will fit what you are looking for.
    – Falconman
    Feb 7, 2015 at 16:40
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for the answer. Hope to see you around. :)
    – Scimonster
    Feb 7, 2015 at 16:52
  • Welcome Falconman. The verses quoted do seem to address and perhaps answer this question, but I don't see how they relate to the last two sentences. The meaning of verse 3:21 isn't clear to me, but I don't see any hint to a "Yetzer Hara", "Yetzer Tov", or a divine image'. If anything, it appears that רוּחַ אֶחָד לַכֹּל Feb 8, 2015 at 4:44
  • An additional note about the site: usually, unless the question states this secifically, you don't need to limit your answers to 'scripture'; you can use any traditional Jewish source that answers the question Feb 8, 2015 at 4:46

from a paper on evolution i wrote a while back.

Abstract thought. This is expressed in the ability of intelligent speech. True, animals can communicate and have intelligence but it is only a "practical intelligence". They are not able to think abstractly, to hold a thought, ponder it and deliberate on it abstractly. It is because of this that one cannot have an intelligent conversation with animals, not even in sign language. Sure you can communicate a bit but you cannot have an intelligent communication like with a human personality. You cannot ask him what he did yesterday, what does he think about this or that, for that requires a higher level of intelligence, an intelligent personality - and this animals do not have.

The consequence of this is something called free will. Free will does not mean the ability to make decisions. Animals can also do that. Free will means the ability to make moral decisions. For example, the animal wants to eat, sleep, kick - and does it. So too, a man wants to eat, sleep, etc. and does it. But man's free will is that he has the ability to refrain from doing what he wants. To refrain from what his nature wants him to do. This is the difference (Rabbi Matityahu Solomon Matnas Chelko commentary to shaar bitachon). The animal is for the most part compelled by its nature. Man has the ability to rise above his base nature and act morally against the wishes of his lower, animal self. This is free will. Animals have a form of intelligence but man alone can be rational and deduce his moral obligations. Man can hold a thought, contemplate it, analyze it and make a thought-out decision. Man has an abstract thought intelligence, while animals only have a practical intelligence. Therefore they are essentially ruled over by passion and instinct. Theoretically, one can predict everything that an animal will do throughout its life. An animal is basically a machine. While for a man it is impossible to predict what he will do. He himself does not know what he will choose. Therefore man is a rational creature while animals are irrational. (1)

another source:

"When G'd created man, it says (Bereishis 2:7): "And man became a living being." The Targum Onkelus translates this to mean that man became a "speaking spirit". The human being is unique in all of Creation as the only creature that can communicate through intelligent speech" (2)

If you are looking for a difference in composition, see shaarei kedusha which explains the extra soul components of man over animals.

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