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Getting to the Heart and Soul of the Matter

By Jeff A. Benner

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5, ESV)


Let’s start this study with the word “heart,” which, in the verse above, is the Hebrew word לבב (levav, Strong’s #3824). Another Hebrew word meaning “heart” is the word לב (lev, Strong’s #3820), which is derived from לבב (levav), and can be seen in the following passage.

I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:41, ESV)

While we, in our modern Western world, associate this word with “emotions,” in the Ancient Hebrew world this word is associated with “thought,” the “mind,” and we can see this in the following passages.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, ESV)

Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! (Psalm 7:9, ESV)

In this last verse, the Hebrew word לב (lev, Strong’s #3820) is translated as “minds.” The word “hearts” in this same verse is the Hebrew word כליה (kilyah, Strong’s #3629), which means “kidneys,” not “heart.” While the “heart” is seen as the seat of thought in Hebrew philosophy, the “kidneys” are seen as the seat of emotion.


Just as our Modern Western view of the “heart” is very different from the Ancient Hebrew view, the same is true for the word “soul,” a very misunderstood Hebrew concept.

When you hear the word “soul,” your mind most likely interprets this as, “The principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.” This is a dictionary definition of the word “soul,” but another definition is “a human being; person.”

When I was on the fire department years ago, and a plane was coming into the airport with mechanical problems, this would be announced over the radio, along with the number of “souls” on board. It is this meaning of a “person,” which is the meaning of the Hebrew word נפש (nephesh, Strong’s #5315).

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. (Exodus 1:5, ESV)

In my Mechanical Translation of the Torah, I translate the word nephesh as “being.” I would have used “person,” but the word nephesh can also be used for a “creature.”

So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:21, ESV)

From a Hebraic perspective the nephesh is the “whole of the person,” his body, mind, emotions, organs and character.”


While the English word “character” does not appear in any translation of the Bible (that I know of); its concept can be found throughout it. In Hebrew thought, the “breath” is associated with one’s character. It is what makes a person unique, his personality, flaws, triumphs, etc. The Hebrew word for “breath” is נשמה (neshemah, Strong’s #5397). This word is derived from the Hebrew word שם (shem, Strong’s #8034), which is usually translated as “name,” but more literally means “character.”

In our culture, a name is nothing more than an identifier and has no real meaning. However, in the Ancient Hebrew culture, names were chosen based on the “character” of the person. For instance, Adam named his wife Hhawah (Eve in English) because she was the “mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20) and the Hebrew word hhawah means “living.” No’ahh (Noah in English) was named this because he would “bring comfort” and the Hebrew word no’ahh means “comfort.”

In the Hebrew mind, the “breath” is much more than the exchange of air in the lungs; it is the person’s character. One could say that Deuteronomy 6:5 is the shem/character of a child of God.

While we are on the subject of “breath,” there is another Hebrew word that can mean “breath,” or “character,” the Hebrew word רוח (ru’ahh, Strong’s #7307). This word literally means “wind,” but can also be used for the “wind” of God or the “wind” of man.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2, ESV)

A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? (Proverbs 18:14, ESV)


I began this study with Deuteronomy 6:5.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5, ESV)

Now that we understand the words “heart” and “soul” from a Hebraic perspective we can better interpret it as; “You shall love the LORD your God with all your mind and with all your person…”

Now let’s take a look at the word “might.” This is the Hebrew word מאד (m’od, Strong’s #3966). To get an understanding of this word, let’s take a look at how it is used.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31, ESV)

Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. (Genesis 30:43 , ESV)

A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. (Exodus 12:38, ESV)

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children— (Deuteronomy 4:9, ESV)

As you can see, this word is almost always used as an adverb, but Hebrew words can play double duty. The same words used as adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, etc. can also be used as nouns. For instance, the Hebrew word עקב (eqev, Strong’s #6119) is a noun meaning “heel” (see Genesis 3:15), but it is also used as a conjunction meaning “because” (but Strong’s identifies this use of the word with #6118). A conjunction, like the word “because,” is used to identify the coming sentence or phrase as being on the “heel” of the previous sentence or verse.

and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:18, ESV)

So, the Hebrew word מאד (m’od, Strong’s #3966) is normally used as an adverb meaning much, very, etc., but this word can also be used as a noun, such as in Deuteronomy 6:5, meaning, well, there is no English equivalent, so I will use “muchness.” What is our “muchness?” It is all of your possessions, resources and abilities.


What does it mean to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might?” The Hebrew language loves to use parallelisms and will frequently repeat one idea two or more different ways. In the case of this verse, the words “heart,” “soul” and “might” are being used as synonyms, but each, increasingly more inclusive. First, the heart, which is all your thoughts, then even more with your soul, your whole body, and then with even more, with everything you own.

Ancient Hebrew Alphabet and Language

Related Pages by Jeff A. Benner

TheThe Living Words (Book)
A study of Hebrew words in the Old and New Testament from their original Hebraic perspective.

TheThe meaning of Grace from a Hebrew perspective (Article)
Most theologians will define "grace" as "unmerited favor." But we must be careful not to interject a theological bias into the text.

WhatWhat is Torah? (Article)
The Hebrew word "Torah" is usually translated into the English word "Law". Because of this translation there is a great misunderstanding of what "Torah" truly is.