Passing Phrase -

Tzipor Hanefesh

Literally: A bird of the soul
Idiomatically: Something very precious / of great importance / close to the heart

The original Talmudic phrase (Baba Kama 90b) is referring to the anatomy of a bird – "tzipor" (Genesis 7:14). It is probably talking about its throat or windpipe which are very sensitive areas, and if crushed or cut will result in immediate death ("nefesh").

"Nefesh" can mean life or soul (Genesis 1:30). Similarly the phrase באו מים עד נפש "Ba-u mayim ad nafesh," (water rose up to his neck) means colloquially that I had it up to here or I can't take any more. Yes, I do remember the 1976 film, Network. Another explanation I read is based on the Tosefta Sanhedrin (9:1) which discusses someone hitting another "betzipor nafsho." The Talmud explains that it should not be read as "tzipor" (bird) but "tzfirah" (sound) meaning the place from where you make a sound e.g. the vocal chords. As the most sensitive and important part of the body, it is the most precious, like someone's heart, hence our phrase's current meaning, something precious and close to the heart.

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