Bereshit (Genesis) 2:7 reads: 'vayipach beapav nishmat chayim vayehi ha'adam lenefesh chayah'

Is my inner being a 'soul' or a 'spirit', or am I a 'soul' or am I a 'spirit'? Let me make myself clear:

Adam became a living soul, humans are living souls, but it seems that HaShem didn't give us a soul, but that this is the outcome of something else: body+animating force= nefesh. So in that sense a human is a living being or living soul; It's an existence that is alive.

The 'force' that plants 'an animating facet' in the body is the mechanism behind the implanting of life in the body; in this case the breathing (napach) of G-d.

The 'animating facet' seems to be called the nishmat chayim or in other scriptures such as Kohelet 12:7 the ruach, mostly translated as spirit.

I wanted to make sure that I got it right; is that what forms our inner being, what we call spirit? And the physical life or appearance as a living being (the life that runs through our veins) what we call soul?

Is my living body a nefesh with a ruach/neshamah? Please help me out


3 Answers 3


Very interesting question! The confusion arises primarily due to semantic concerns when translating between Hebrew and English.

Metaphysical literature in Judaism recognizes five parts to the "spiritual essense" of man, some of which are given analogous physical components.

  1. Nefesh - the "sustaining force," this correlates to blood/the circulatory system in animals and humans. Jews are explicitly forbidden to eat blood due to this connection.
  2. Ruach - the "spirit," this correlates to the respiratory system.
  3. Neshama - translation at this point can get a bit... dicey. This has to do with the capacity for thought and correlates to the nervous system. Generally this is what people talk about as the "soul," but it is connected/bundled to the next two levels.
  4. Chayah - literally "life-ness." This is hard to explain. It's... kind of an atomistic spiritual force... like the "nefesh/life force of the soul" ...
  5. Yechidah - "Uniqueness" - considered the "highest" level of the soul. It correlates to the "source" of the soul in it's unique connection to God.

There's plenty of discussion around the precise metaphysical mechanics of the upper levels of the soul, but it's really esoteric and almost entirely in hebrew (and yiddish!)

To directly answer your question: Your "sustaining - nefesh" and "animating/breathing/speaking - ruach" forces are vested in the body to make it function, but your "soul - neshamah"-self is the purely spiritual "you"-ness that expresses itself in the intellect. It is sustained by the Chayah through the Yechidah - it's direct connection to God.

To clarify - when you die, you shed the cloak of your physical body, the ruach and the nefesh being the tools employed by you in that body, and you - the neshamah (and it's related parts) - emerge.

  • @user4762 Correct - there can be physical systems working in the body without the presense of any higher order functions. Think of the completely brain dead on a heart-lung machine. There is no neurological functioning at all. There are legal questions surrounding this kind of end-of-life care that get very complex, but center around the fact that the "soul" may be absent while the lower orders of nefesh and ruach remain. Mar 11, 2015 at 18:01
  • Great comment! Makes a lot of sence the way you described it
    – Levi
    Mar 12, 2015 at 5:14
  • Nice answer, but I will disagree with the final point. My teachers taught me that when you die, your nefesh and ruach can join the neshama or the body, depending on which they share a closer tie with. Through your actions, you align the nefesh and ruach with the body or the neshama.
    – LN6595
    Feb 7, 2016 at 3:07
  • @LN6595 That doesn't in any way contradict my answer - the nefesh and ruach are tools, that doesn't necessarily mean they are "left behind," only that they are not integral to the identity. On the contrary - one might argue that if they WERE integral to the self, leaving them behind would be an impossibility! Feb 8, 2016 at 13:55

Here is Rabbi Ashlag, which is one of the greatest Mekubalim of about a hundred years ago:


From the above, we can clearly understand the verse: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living (Chayah) soul (Nefesh)” (Genesis 2:7). Here we find two creations:

A. Man himself;

B. The living soul itself.

And the verse says that in the beginning, man was created as dust of the ground, a collection of molecules in which resides the essence of man, meaning his will to receive. That force, the will to receive, is present in every element of reality, as we have explained above. Also, all four types: still, vegetative, animate and speaking emerged from them. In that respect, man has no advantage over any part of creation, and this is the meaning of the verse in the words: “dust of the ground.”

However, we have already seen that this force, called “will to receive,” cannot exist without dressing and acting in a desired object, and this action is called, “life.” And accordingly, we find that before man has arrived at the human forms of reception of pleasure, which differ from those of other animals, he is still considered a lifeless, dead person. This is because his will to receive has no place in which to dress and manifest his actions, which are the manifestations of life.

This is the meaning of the verse, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” which is the general form of reception suitable for humans. The word, Nishmat, (breath) comes from the word, Samin, (placing) the ground for him, which is like “value.” And the origin of the word “breath” is understood from the verse (Job 33:4): “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life,” and see the commentary of the MALBIM there. The word, “soul” (Neshama), has the same syntax structure as the words, “missing” (Nifkad), “accused” (Ne’esham), and “accused” (Ne’eshama—female term of Ne’esham).

And the meaning of the words, “and breathed into his nostrils” is that He instills a soul (Neshama) in his internality and an appreciation of life, which is the sum of the forms that are worthy of reception into his will to receive. Then, that force, the will to receive, enclosed in his molecules, has found a place in which to dress and act, meaning in those forms of reception that he had obtained from the Creator. And this action is called “life,” as we have explained above.

And the verse ends, “and man became a living soul.” This means that since the will to receive has begun to act by the measures of those forms of reception, life instantly manifested in it and it “became a living soul.” However, prior to the attainment of those forms of reception, although the force of the will to receive had been imprinted in him, it is still considered a lifeless body, since it has no place in which to appear and to manifest in action.

As we have seen above, although man’s essence is only the will to receive, it is still taken as half of a whole, as it must clothe in a reality that comes its way. For that reason, it and the image of possession it depicts are literally one, for otherwise it would not be able to exist for even a moment.

Source: http://www.kabbalah.info/eng/content/view/frame/31386?/eng/content/view/full/31386&main


Sorry for hurting your eyes.

I'll be grateful if someone will find another English source, not from this site and replace it.


the rambam in hilchos teshuva says the soul is the deah. have heard from my rabbi that this is the quality of being self-aware.

see also shaarei kedusha part 1 for a full discussion on this topic

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