Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav
Getting to the Heart and Soul of the MatterBy 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)Heart
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)
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.Soul
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.
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.”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.”
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)
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…”
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)
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.Conclusion
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.