A deep secret has been entrusted to the wise hearted. There are three levels to the spiritual make up of man, each level attached one to the other. These three levels are called Nefesh, Ruach and Neshama. The Nefesh is the life force that builds the physical body…

The Nefesh is the life force that builds the physical body [as the verse states, "The blood is the life force/Nefesh"]. When a man is aroused to unite with his wife, then all his limbs are aroused and prepare themselves to take pleasure from it, and his Nefesh and his higher will power are both aroused. At that moment the person's Nefesh and its will enters to take part in the act and draws down [from the spiritual worlds] a spirit [Nefesh] and places it within the [person's] seed for depositing [to his wife].

It is that strong desire, and the drawing down of the Nefesh life force that draws down a further power from the spiritual levels called "Ishim" which infuses the seed. The body of the embryo is built from these powers. This is the first and lowest level of these three levels.

Because the Nefesh is so firmly attached to the body and its very basis and structure, it is this level that the Temple sacrifices made atonement for. A part of this sacrifice was also directed to the spiritual level of "Ishim" because part of the make up of the Nefesh is from there. Hence the phrase; "My offering, my bread for the Ishai" (Num. 28:2); because the atonement is derived from the strength of the Nefesh, they must also take their portion. Now when a person dies in this world, the Nefesh never leaves the place where the body is buried, and it is this force that the dead recognize when they communicate with each other.

The Ruach is the force that causes this life force to endure in this world. This [Ruach] is drawn from an arousal of the [supernal Atzilut] female [Nukva] toward the male; this occurs at the time when they desire one another, and she is aroused to due to her desire to receive the Ruach. This resembles what happens in This World, when she issues seed due to her desire to receive from the male. In the middle of the Garden is a multi-colored pillar…

This secret is reflected in the verse: "The spirit / ruach returns to G‑d who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7) This Ruach leaves This World [when a person dies] and separates from the Nefesh [which remains at the burial place]; it ascends to a place called "Gan Eden" in This World, and there it clothes itself in the atmosphere of Gan Eden in the same way as supernal angels dress in the atmosphere of This World when they descend to it. This is because both angels and the spirit [Ruach] are from the same realm, as is hinted in the verse: "He makes his angels like spirits [in Hebrew, 'ruchot', the plural form of 'ruach']." (Psalms 104:4)

In a similar way that spirit arising from this world dresses in that lower Gan Eden in the physical form of the body it had in this world and enjoys the pleasures of that world. That lower Gan Eden has images and forms from this physical world and also from the higher spiritual realms. This lower Gan Eden is where the righteous walk and also receive pleasure, and on Shabbats and each New Moon they want to ascend to the next level. In the middle of the Garden is a multi-colored pillar*, and when this spirit wishes to ascend higher it discards its "clothing" and enters into that column and goes up to that higher place that it originally issued forth from. This is what is meant by the verse: "The spirit returns to G‑d who gave it".

multi-colored — the Aramaic is related to the Hebrew merukam 'embroidered'.

Then Michael, the High Priest in this spiritual realm, offers up this spirit as a sweet smelling sacrifice to G‑d. The spirit dwells in that realm and enjoys the essence of the life force as is stated: "The eye [of any prophet] has not seen G‑d except for you." (Isaiah 64:3) Afterwards the spirit returns to the lower Gan Eden and enjoys all types of pleasures. It dresses as is appropriate for that lower Gan Eden and sits there with a beautiful crown many times as radiant as its previous one.

The Neshama is the life force higher than these [the Ruach or the Nefesh]. She comes from the strength of the masculine side, of the Tree of Life. [The Neshama] rises up immediately [with the death of the body to the higher Gan Eden], and all the three levels of spirit mentioned [Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama] are connected and held one to the other. At the time of the departure of a person from this physical world, they separate one from the other and each returns to the place that it originally issued from. …They give it a spiritual passport which it can use to enter Gan Eden

When the Ruach goes out from This World, it first enters the cave of Adam and the Forefathers [Machpela] who are buried there, and they give it a spiritual passport which it can use to enter the Gan Eden. When it gets close to there, it meets forces called "Cruvim" and the fiery whirling sword. If deemed worthy, they see this passport and [the soul] enters. If not deemed worthy, she is pushed outside and sits there until her punishment ends and she is allowed into Gan Eden. There she is dressed in the same form as she had in This World, and on Shabbats and New Moons when she wishes to ascend, the righteous who are in the lower Gan Eden sign her passport and she ascends the same column in the lower Gan Eden. She meets the "guardians of the walls of Jerusalem", and, if worthy, they take her passport and let her enter. If not, they push her out and she returns to the lower Gan Eden.

Zohar, Sitrei Torah Page 81a; translation and commentary by Simcha-Shmuel Treister

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