How does the Bible define a “Soul”?

Soul seems to be one of those words that has a variety of meanings. Definitions range from feelings and emotions, to our inner being, while some describe a type of food as, “soul food”. Even the dictionary will give a variety of definitions, from an angelic being to an individual force or fervor.

In many instance’s “soul” is used as the English translation for the Hebrew word nephish. However the translator’s don’t always use the word “soul”. Nephish is a Hebrew word that describes : “that which breaths” or we may think of it as what causes it to breath, like the energy behind the seen. Both animals and humans alike have nephish because both breath, however the human was also breathed into by G-d but, the animal wasn’t.

G-d created our bodies from the earth as we read in Genesis. But the nephish came from Him, which gives the body life. According to Leviticus 17:11, the nephish dwells in the blood. Without the blood there is no life. The blood from an animal is to be buried upon the ground if it was killed for food, however if it was to be killed for an offering the blood is placed upon the appropriate positions at the Alter. The blood is not to be consumed in either instance.

Judaism teaches that the human has two nephish’s. The first operates the same as the animals, ie. it monitors all of our functions, eating, drinking, physical desires, moods, etc. etc. Everything that makes us a living being.

As opposed to the animal, the human was breathed into by G-d, Genesis 2:7. The second nephish is from G-d breathing into us at creation, and is our connection with our Creator as humans. This nephish brings us our morality, the natural draw toward G-d’s teachings in Torah.

The two nephish’s are referred to as the animalistic nephish and the godly nephish. The two nephish’s can come into conflict with each other. Our physical desires can become very strong, consequently allowing the animalistic nephish to be in control. When this happens our godly nephish has yielded control. We need our animalistic nephish, but under the control of a strong godly nephish. Our godly nephish is strengthened by regular Torah study, prayer, and obedience to Hashem, and His teachings.

We see that the nephish is more than the “real you”, as some define the soul. I think a quick or short understanding of nephish could be “that which our Creator placed within us that makes us a living being”. It is what lives on and returns to or Creator after the flesh or physical body dies. Perhaps it would be a good idea to nurture our nephish at least or more than our physical body. With the body gone and the nephish living on for eternity, it may be a good idea to prepare it during this time that G-d has given us.

by, Jim Behnke

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