Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE Hebrew nefesh (soul) is a homonymous noun, signifying the vitality which is common to all living, sentient beings. E.g. "wherein there is a living soul" (nefesh) (Gen. i. 30). It denotes also blood," as in "Thou shalt not eat the blood (nefesh) with the meat" (Deut. xii. 23). Another signification of the term is "reason," that is, the distinguishing characteristic of man, as in "As the Lord liveth that made us this soul" (Jer. xxxviii. 16). It denotes also the part of man that remains after his death (nefesh, soul) comp. "But the soul (nefesh) of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life (1 Sam. xxv. 29). Lastly, it denotes "will"; comp. "To bind his princes at his will" (be-nafsho) (Ps. cv. 22); "Thou wilt not deliver me unto the will (be-nefesh) of my enemies" (Ps. xli. 3); and according to my opinion, it has this meaning also in the following passages, "If it be your will (nafshekem) that I should bury my dead" (Gen. xxiii. 8); "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my will (nafshi) could not be toward this people" (Jer. xv. 1), that is, I had no pleasure in them, I did not wish to preserve them. When nefesh is used in reference to God, it has the meaning "will," as we have already explained with reference to the passage, "That shall do according to that which is in my will (bi-lebabi) and in mine intention (be-nafshi)" (1 Sam. ii. 35). Similarly we explain the phrase, "And his will (nafsho) to trouble Israel ceased" (Judg. x. 16). Jonathan, the son of Uzziel [in the Targum of the Prophets], did not translate this passage, because he understood nafshi to have the first signification, and finding, therefore, in these words sensation ascribed to God, he omitted them from his translation. If, however, nefesh be here taken in the last signification, the sentence can well be explained. For in the passage which precedes, it is stated that Providence abandoned the Israelites, and left them on the brink of death: then they cried and prayed for help, but in vain. When, however, they had thoroughly repented, when their misery had increased, and their enemy had had power over them, He showed mercy to them, and His will to continue their trouble and misery ceased. Note it well, for it is remarkable. The preposition ba in this passage has the force of the preposition min ("from" or "of"); and ba‘amal is identical with me‘amal. Grammarians give many instances of this use of the preposition ba: "And that which remaineth of (ba) the flesh and of (ba) the bread" (Lev. viii. 32); "If there remains but few of (ba) the years" (ib. xxv. 52); "Of (ba) the strangers and of (ba) those born in the land" (Exod. xii. 19).