Every language has a genius and soul of its own. Each language has several key words that have many different meanings and connotations. This is especially true for a very ancient language like Hebrew, which has been used continuously, especially for religious thought, for over 3.500 years.
The Hebrew word lev literally means heart. In English, heart is a metaphor for feelings; and in Hebrew lev is a metaphor for mind. In Hebrew people have desires and thoughts in their hearts; and deep emotions in their guts. The Hebrew might be teaching us that our minds are not just rational and not just emotional but always a mixture of both.
Nefesh is the life force in any living being (Lev. 17:11 Exodus 21:23). Ruach literally means wind or breath and figuratively means spirit/energy similar to life force but also on occasion on a spiritual level as in Ruach HaKodesh–Holy Spirit, Neshamah is the highest level: a self aware moral being. All three meanings are not souls in Greek or Hindu – philosophical meaning of a pure, eternal entity that resides in a body but is entirely separate from (and often in conflict with) the body.
In Bible and Talmud literature humans are seen as a mind/body unity. In Medieval times Greek philosophical concepts from Muslim and Christian philosophers were adapted by some rabbis; but not with all their radical dualistic ‘body is evil’ views. All animals have a Nefesh; a non conscious active and reactive system, and most have a Ruach; a conscious adaptive system. Only Homo Sapiens, and perhaps a few of our deceased predecessors, have a self conscious introspective, reflective and free will moral system.
When the Torah teaches “You shall love Adonai your God with all your lev Heart/Mind; and with all your Nefesh life force/being, and with all your Meodecha (we would expect Neshamah), she (Torah) uses Meodecha literally from Meod-very, meaning your total commitment-all you have/are.
Torah is a feminine noun that means ‘a’ or ‘the’ Teaching. A mother or wife should be your morah-Torah female teacher as it says about “A Woman of Valor” in the Biblical book of Proverbs “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the Torah of kindness is on her tongue.” (31:26).
Torah is often mistranslated as Law, which is only one aspect of her teaching. “She is a tree of life for those who cling to her”(3:18).
Both Torah and Wisdom are feminine, as are Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah; yet all are referred to as ‘it’. This should be changed.
Rather than forgo the gender metaphor, we should use ‘she’ instead of ‘it’ when speaking and writing about important Jewish subjects like Wisdom, Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah, and especially Mitsvah and Torah.
For Torah is the mother Tree of Jewish Life, as we say every time we return the Torah to the Holy Ark: She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; and all who hold on to her will be blessed. (Proverbs 3:18)