Nurturing the Human Soul - From Cradle to Grave
The pasuk in Bereshit 2:7 relates the process by which Hashem created Man: “V’yitzer Hashem Elokim et ha’adam afar mi ha’adama, v’yipach b’apav nishmat chayim, va’yehi ha’adam l’nefesh chaya – Then G-d formed Man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and so Man became a living creature.”
What’s striking is that by referring to Man as “nefesh chaya,” the pasuk is suggesting that there is nothing different about Man than the creatures that preceded him, which are also referred to repeatedly as “nefesh chaya;” see Bereshit 1:20, 1:21, 1:24, 1:30. Rashi was clearly bothered by the use of “nefesh chaya” to refer to both Man and all of the other creatures, and addresses the issue. Whereas Rashi tersely interprets “nefesh chaya” in earlier pesukim as “a life force, ” (1:20, 1:21, 1:24), in the context of the creation of Man, Rashi elaborates that while all the other creatures are also referred to as “nefesh chaya,” Man has a stronger “life force” by virtue of the “dey’ah” and “dibur” (reasoning and speech) instilled in him by Hashem.
The distinction of Man as a “thinking” and “speaking” creature is echoed by the Targum Onkelos, which translates “nefesh chaya” in earlier pesukim as “nafsha chaita” (a living spirit), whereas “nefesh chaya” in connection with the creation of Man is translated as “ruach memalelah” – a speaking spirit.
What’s interesting about Onkelos’ translation in connection with Man is his use of an entirely differently word – “ruach” – as opposed to “nefesh” in connection with the other creatures. The word “ruach” does not appear in the pasuk itelf. However, there is a reference to “nishmat chayim” – i.e., neshama.
So we now have three different words referring to the “soul” of Man – nefesh, neshama and ruach. How do these each differ, and what does each contribute in distinguishing Man from all of the other creatures?