Having discussed נשמה, neshamah in part 1, now I will move to the other two Hebrew words for “soul”: נפש, nefesh and רוח, ruach.
In the Mussar book, “The Ways of the Righteous”, the nefesh and ruach are likened as two masters of our soul. These two, however, are subordinate to the neshamah. This can be compared to a King (i.e. neshamah) and his two Commanders. The two commanders are a reflection and likeness of the King. They go forth and do what the King commands, but they are also capable of going their own way despite the King. (cf. B. Sanhedrin 91a-b)
The ruach is one aspect of our sense of self. The ruach is associated with the heart and is associated with the esteem of self: beauty, honor, glory and pride. The ruach is the source of our health and physical vitality that animates us. The nefesh is the other aspect of our sense of self. The nefesh is associated with the Liver and is the seat of desires such as food and companionship. Together, the nefesh and ruach satiate and animate the flesh of the body.
Now the human soul is special and it is unique among all creatures. Animals have a nefesh and ruach too. Therefore a lion can project its protective nature for his pride in its roar; or get hungry or aroused just like a human. But lions do not design experiences and intentionally manage them like a human. Animals lack the “king” in their soul, the neshamah. An animal can only experience and do whatever comes to them at the moment. But man’s neshamah can organize and create his memories and experiences. The neshamah is distinct to humans which makes them subject to judgment by HaShem.
I think the writer of the letter to the Hebrews had these “soul” concepts in mind when he wrote this teaching down, as it is written:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—piercing right through to a separation of soul (Heb. nefesh, Grk. psuchei) and spirit (Heb. ruach, Grk. pneuma), joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13, TLV)
In Jewish theology, when a person dies, that person’s nefesh and ruach die and his neshamah returns to HaShem who made it. The neshamah is the witness against his body and soul’s sins. Now, we choose life by following HaShem’s Torah breathed by the neshamah, or we choose our own good or evil, following our nefesh and ruach to our own folly. Or we land somewhere in between the two ways of Life and Death. This helps to explain what our Master said, that “one must be born again,” meaning, that our old ruach and nefesh nature and life must die and we need to be born again by the Holy Spirit [ruach hakodesh] of Yeshua. If we have chosen to follow Yeshua for Life, then we will receive eternal life, animated by His Ruach hakodesh. But, if we choose death by choosing our own will, our nefesh and ruach will certainly die, our own neshamah will testify against us.
We have been uniquely created by HaShem with a neshamah, ruach and nefesh. These three are “one soul.” HaShem breathed life into us, and we should also breathe life into this world. We will be held to account for what we do in this life.