The concept of "Nefesh of the Ger" [convert, stranger] will be mentioned several times throughout Sha’ar Hagilgulim. It will be worthwhile to examine it now in greater detail.
We have already learned from the Ari several important rules. Firstly, a Ruach cannot come into the world until the Nefesh is completely rectified, and the Neshamah cannot come into the world until the Ruach is completely rectified. Secondly, when the Ruach comes into the world, it must come ensconced within a Nefesh. However, if the Ruach (and/or Neshamah) were already in the world together with the Nefesh, and they were blemished by sin, then the Ruach must be rectified after completion of the Nefesh, but then a blemished Ruach cannot enter the world ensconced within a rectified Nefesh. The rectified Nefesh cannot become a vehicle or external garment to a blemished Ruach (or Neshamah). Yet, the Ruach and Neshamah cannot enter into the world without the intermediary of a Nefesh. How can the Ruach and Neshamah ever enter into the world to achieve rectification?
The answer to this conundrum is the concept of "The Nefesh of the Ger (stranger, convert)." The Ruach or Neshamah grabs hold of the Nefesh of a Ger, ensconces itself within that Nefesh, and in this way it enters into the world with the Nefesh of a Ger serving as its intermediary or interface.
In addition, there are several points that need to be known to understand this concept of the Nefesh of the Ger.
Firstly, when this Nefesh joins with a Ruach or Neshamah, it has already been in the world. The convert has already done what was necessary to merit to it.
Secondly, the Ari will explain in later chapters that there are three basic types of soul: new souls, somewhat new souls (descended from Kayin and Hevel) and old souls. The Nefesh of the Ger is a fourth type. The following are the relevant words of the Ari at the end of Chapter Seven of Sefer Hagilgulim.
There are other Nefashot [plural form of Nefesh] of converts that fall out from the Kelipah of Nogah, which is composed of good and evil, as mentioned in Parshat Vayakhel, p. 203. They are from the marital intercourse of the souls of the tzadikim [righteous ones] that take place every night in the earthly Garden of Paradise, as mentioned in Beshalach, p.188. The divisions of the souls of Isrealites, however, are three. They are new souls, intermediate ones, which are the souls of Kayin and Hevel, and old ones, which fell from Adam Harishon [when he sinned] and they fell into the Kelipot.
Thirdly, we will learn that it is possible for a blemished Ruach, whose Nefesh has been completed, to enter into the body of a person, a stranger but not necessarily a convert, who himself possesses an unfinished Nefesh. This is called Double Gilgul (see 4:4).
Those that want to examine this concept more extensively can read the translation and explanation of the relevant section of the Zohar in the Note #10.
10 If he takes a different wife…
Let us consider the words of the Sabba as they appear in the Zohar (Exodus, Mishpatim, pp.98b – 99a, Sulam: 88 – 96), the post-biblical source of the concept "Nefesh of the Ger."
The relevant section of the Zohar is actually an exposition on the verse, "If he takes a different [wife]…" (Exodus 21:10). It concerns a Jewish girl who is sold by her father when she is still a minor. She is called an "amah ivriyah," a Jewish maidservant. The Torah requires the person who bought the maidservant to marry her, or to marry her to one of his sons. If he does not do this by the time she becomes an adult [12 years of age] then he gives her gifts and she goes out free. If he or one of his sons do marry her, then she is entitled to receive the love and respect due to every Jewish wife, which is defined by the three categories, "…her food, her raiment and her qualitative time of intimacy." Even "if he takes a different" wife, he can never deny this girl her privileges, fully and without prejudice. However, the Zohar is considering this situation from an esoteric point of view.
Source in the Zohar
88 All these souls of converts flew out from the Garden of Paradise in a hidden way.
In other words, these souls were not born to Holy Seed. Normally, souls come from the Higher Garden of Paradise into this world by passing through the Lower Garden, and then through the Holy Seed into the world, but these did not come down in a normal way. Suddenly, they appeared far away, and somehow they made their way back. Their path is called "hidden."
When they leave this world, the souls that they [the converts] gained from the Garden of Paradise – to what place do they return?
Notice that these souls were already in the world. The converts, through their deeds, have earned them. The question here is how do they get back to their place in the Higher Garden of Paradise, and where are they in the meantime?
If they had come out in a normal and known way, then they could traverse that path in reverse to get back to Paradise. However, these souls that came out in a "hidden" way – how do they get back? Their way is hidden. And if they cannot get back, then where are they?
89 We were taught that the first person to grab and take hold of the property of a convert merits to it.
There are two rules in Jewish Law [Halachah] that are relevant to this statement.
1) Any Jew has an inheritor. There is some relative, however distant, who has the right to inherit his property. When he dies, his property is never "up for grabs" since there is someone who has the legal right to inherit it.
2) In contrast, a convert does not have a Jewish family tree that goes back for generations. He might die and leave no inheritors. In such a case the rule is that his property is up for grabs. Whoever grabs the property of a convert who has died and left no inheritors merits to the property.
It is the same here with all these holy and high Neshamot who are designated by the Blessed Holy One to go down below, as we explained.
According to the Ari these are the Ruchot and Neshamot that were blemished in a previous lifetime.
They go out at specific times to play in the [Lower] Garden of Paradise, and they meet the souls of converts. One that takes hold of one of these souls, unites with it, merits to it, ensconces itself within it, and goes out.
Since their Nefesh is completed, it is now time for them to be reincarnated. However, they cannot ensconce within their rectified Nefesh because they are blemished. What do they do? They meet the souls of converts, grab hold of them, ensconce within them, and within these garments they are born into the world.
They exist within these [enveloping] garments, and they remain in the Garden in these garments because all those that are existing within the [Lower] Garden of Paradise cannot exist there if they are not clothed.
90 If you will say, "Because of these garments, these souls will be denied the ecstasy that was theirs from the first!"
Perhaps this is talking about the original Nefesh of the Ruach/Neshamah. This Nefesh will have been cheated because it must now exist without a Ruach or Neshamah, which has gone off to join the Nefesh of a Ger. Or, perhaps it is talking about the Ruach itself that is ensconced within the Nefesh of the Ger. The latter acts as an imposition blocking out some of the ecstasy that was supposed to be absorbed by the Ruach/Neshamah. The Sabba answers.
Behold, it is written, "If he takes another [wife] to himself, then he shall not deny her food, her raiment and her qualitative time of intimacy." In the Garden he exists ensconced within this garment that he grabbed and merited, but when he goes up from there he removes it because he does not need to exist there within a garment.
Thus, when the Ruach/Neshamah goes up into the Higher Garden of Paradise, he divests the garment. The interposition is removed, and he is free to rejoin the original Nefesh.
Moreover, the Nefesh of the Ger has gained an important benefit. It has been brought back into the Higher Paradise, albeit as a garment, but now that the Ruach has divested itself of its garment in the Higher Paradise, the Nefesh of the Ger is there on its own and as an independent entity.
The Nefesh is the interface
91 The Sabba began to cry as he had done before, and he said to himself, Old Man, Old Man, you certainly have reason to cry and pour out tears over every word that you are revealing. But it is known to the Blessed Holy One and the Holy Divine Presence that my heart is agreeable and I am speaking only in their service. They are the masters of all words, and they are crowned by them [by the words of Torah].
92 All these holy souls come down into this world to inspire human beings and to take their places as is fitting for each one of them. When they come down each one is clothed in those souls that we discussed [the souls of converts], and that is how they enter into the holy seed.
In other words, a Ruach or Neshamah is ensconced within the Nefesh of a Ger, and in that way it reincarnates into the holy seed, into the body of a Jewish person.
It is within these garments that they are able to exist and to be effected by the things of this world. When these envelopes [the souls of the converts] draw desired things from this world, then the holy Neshamot are nourished from the odors that they smell in these garments.
The Nefesh of the convert is a garment that envelops the higher souls from the levels of Neshamah and Ruach, and it is through this exterior garment that envelops them that the Neshamot and Ruchot enter into the physical world. In other words, the Nefesh of the convert is the interface between the higher souls and the physical world.
The Neshamah and Ruach can enter the world only when they are enveloped in a Nefesh, which acts as their interface. They can only benefit from the world by the sense of smell. This they do through the interface of the Nefesh, and if they cannot use their own Nefesh, then they get to use the so-called Nefesh of the convert, which is made available to them specifically for this purpose.
"You have known the Nefesh of a Ger"
93 All the hidden things that the Blessed Holy One does He has put into the Holy Torah, and everything is in the Torah. He reveals a hidden thing in the Torah, but he immediately clothes it in another garment and hides it. The Wise, who have many eyes, are able to see a hidden thing within its garment even though it is hidden there. They spot it when it is revealed even though it may be hidden again within its covering immediately, and they don’t lose sight of it again despite its obscurity.
94 In several places the Blessed Holy One has already warned about converts that the people of the holy seed must be careful about them.
The people of Israel must be careful about the converts in their midst, not to oppress them or treat them harshly in any way, and to go out of their way to make converts feel comfortable and at home as much as possible. The Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) even says that the Torah has warned the Jewish people about this no less than 36 (and some say 46) times.
In one of these places it is written in the Torah (Exodus 23:9), "Do not oppress a Ger, for you have known the Nefesh of a Ger when you were strangers in the land of Egypt." The continuation of the Zohar emphasizes the need to understand this verse and the concept of Nefesh of the Ger in an esoteric way, and not according to its simple meaning.
95 Having warned about the Ger [the stranger and convert] in all these places He now takes the thing out of its covering and reveals it. This is what it says, "…for you have known the Nefesh of a Ger," and then it is immediately hidden with the words, "…when you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
In other words, the Sabba is insisting that we should not understand this verse according to its simple meaning that since we were strangers in Egypt, therefore we have the ability to empathize with the convert in our midst. That may be true, but according to the Sabba the Torah is not giving over here a mere psychological ethic based on the historical experience of the collective. It wants us, at this point, to discount the words "when you were strangers in the land of Egypt," which is a mere garment to the important message that "you have known the Nefesh of a Ger."
It is as if the Torah thinks that by hiding the thing immediately nobody will pay attention to it.
The Sabba may well be doing what he is "accusing" the Torah of doing – revealing one measure and hiding two. He never really explains what the phrase, "…You have known the Nefesh of the Ger" is supposed to mean. He leaves it for us to meditate upon it, or speculate about it.
Furthermore, the Sabba reveals now that the esoteric meaning of the verse is talking about the relationship of Neshamah (and Ruach) to the Nefesh of the Ger.
It is through this Nefesh of the Ger that the Neshamah knows the things of this world and is able to benefit from them.
In other words, it is through the Nefesh of the Ger that all the blemished Neshamot and Ruchot can enter into the world. That is the main point. The Nefesh of the Ger is the interface, the mechanism by which blemished Ruchot and Neshamot know the world and benefit from it.
The Zohar will now further clarify the point by comparing it to the cloud that is mentioned in the verse, "And Moshe went into the midst of the cloud, and he went up to the mountain…" (Exodus 24:18).
96 The Sabba began, and he said, "And Moshe went into the midst of the cloud, and he went up to the mountain…"
What is this cloud?
This is what is written, "I have put My bow in the cloud…." This bow sent forth its garment [the cloud], which was given to Moshe. With this garment he was able to go up to the mountain, and through it he was able to see what he saw and benefit from what was there.
In other words, the cloud was the interface between Moshe and what was being revealed on Mount Sinai.
At this point the members of the fellowship [that were present, R’ Yossi and R’ Chiya] prostrated themselves before the Sabba. They cried and they said, "If we had come into the world only to hear these words from your mouth, then it would have been enough."
[Commentary by Shabtai Teicher.]