There’s level in the spiritual cosmos where cognition and perception are one, where they converge. Likewise, there’s a level where emotional feelings and perceptions are one. It’s actually part of the same system which allows earthings to anatomically continuous with their surrounding physical environment. So what the environment feels, the bodies will feel.
The realm of “Briyah” or “Creation” is primarily a realm of intellect, a universe of mind. It might not contain intellect as earthly humans know it, but at least earthling intellect is an apt parable for it, i.e. a very dimmed sample of it. Since souls on this level are mainly made from divine thought and mainly perceive thought forms, their inner cognitions and outer perceptions are almost seamlessly continuous. Relatively speaking, there’s little or no distinction between their inner and outer environments. Since the function of perception is to bring in signals from the outer environment and on the level of “Briyah” everything perceived is intellectual, the soul’s thoughts are continuous with her perceptions.
Souls in “Briyah” are points of identity enclothed in bodies made from intellectual material. From the perspective of their core identities, on the core level, they are “portions of God above”. From the perspective of their bodies, built from intellectual material, they are “creations” - entities brought about “something from nothing” (though not literally so). The intellectual bodies, called “souls”, are built by clarifying and refining spiritual material which fell into “Briyah” during the “shattering of the vessels”.
The realm of “Yetzirah” of “Formation” is an emotional realm. Again, like “Briyah” is not really intellect as earthings access it, so too “Yetzirah” is not really emotions as humans access it on the earthly level. It’s far richer and fuller than anything earthly humans can dream of. However, the human emotional experience is a very dull taste of the emotional intensity of “Yetzirah” - an impoverished, yet apt parable for it.
There’s a withdrawal of intellectual intensity to reveal the soul’s potential for emotional feelings. Yet, the soul is left with an afterglow of intellectual light, followed by a reintroduction of a bit of the original withdrawn light, as the soul garners a new garment built of emotional material on her descent from the upper Garden of Eden to the lower one - the realm of “Yetzirah”.
Again, when reality is viewed from this level, there are only emotional feelings. The souls and angels in this realm are emotional. The soul garbed in emotional material is called “ruach”, i.e. spirit. As reality viewed with eyes of flesh appears physical, the same reality when view with eyes of “ruach” appears emotional.
This should not be a surprise, as truthfully there’s only Oneness. Hence, whatever is seen depends on what eyes it’s seen with. The eyes of the “neshomah”, i.e. soul, sees an intellectual reality, while the eyes of “ruach” sees an emotional reality. It goes without saying, that eyes of flesh see a physical reality.
It’s all the same reality, the Creator’s Oneness, seen with different eyes. By picking up their own unique set of signals, each of the eyes fragment reality differently. Each artificially slices the whole. The slicing is “artificial” because the whole remains whole. The Creator does not feel sliced by the selective perceptions of the various beings which inhabit the vast expanse of His creation.
In “Yetzirah”, emotions are experienced by the soul directly. There’s little or no buffer between the inner and outer flows of emotions. On this level, the soul is a point of identity double garbed - first, garbed by an intellectual body, a “neshoma”, and then garbed by an emotional body, a “ruach”. Just like the “neshoma” is created from reconstituted intellectual material that fell into “Briyah” during the shattering of the vessels, so too, the “ruach” is is formed from reconstituted emotional material that fell into “Yetzirah” during this event.
The “ruach” directly interacts with the outer emotional environment of “Yetzirah”. Here, there’s no difference between perceptions and emotional feelings, as emotions are what is perceived. However since cognition the “ruach” inherited from a higher realm, there’s a buffer between thinking and perception - as the “ruach” does not perceive thoughts, only feelings. So thought is something which occurs in the inner recesses of the “ruach” and to become communicated requires an emotional expression. The intellectual content needs to be communicated by being clothed in emotional signals in to reach another “ruach” or angel in that realm. Otherwise, the thought remains within the thinker.
The same pattern repeats as the soul descends into the spiritual realm closely associated with the physical realm. The physical realm is actually the lowest part of the realm of “Assiyah” or “Doing”. The higher part of “Assiyah” is known as the “spiritual realm of Assiyah”. What kind of material is this realm built from?
It seems likely to me that the “spiritual realm of Assiyah” is comprised of biological material. Commonly, the word “biological” is reserved by science to describe organism that demonstrate certain characteristics of life and have at least one cell. However, I am not using the word in that sense. I am referring to something that science does not yet quantify - the life force that works through organisms. That’s the material I believe that the “spiritual realm of Assiyah” is built from. That’s why the soul on this level is called “nefesh” or biological soul.
In fact, all biological organisms are enlivened by what is called “nefesh”. “Nefesh” also connotes will, as in the conversation between Abraham and the Hittites, “If it be in your “nefesh”, i.e. your will, ...” See Rashi’s commentary there. I guess the two notions of vital force and will fuse because only what’s alive bears a will, a sense of direction at the highest core of self - regardless, of whether it derives from nature or nurture.
As is probably the case in “Briyah” and “Yetzirah” too, but less so, there gathers around a “ruach” descending from “Yetzirah” the more refined “nefesh” material to form a body on two levels. The more refined or the refined becomes a “divine nefesh”. The less refined material becomes an “animal nefesh”, layered around the “divine nefesh”. The “animal nefesh” is really just material which hasn’t yet been fully refined. It’s still somewhat rough and unfinished. Over the course of earthly life, more of what’s unrefined can become refined, enlarging the territory of the “divine nefesh”. This indicates that both levels are potentially continuous with each other - which is by both together are simply referred to as “nefesh” and in most cases the technical divisions between these two levels are glossed over (except when relevant, like in “Tanya”).
To the “nefesh” the universe appears like an entity comprised of biological life force. The “nefesh” perceives and interacts with this material directly. Being that the “nefesh” is built from the same material as it’s environment, it’s directly affected by the flows of it’s environment. While the “nefesh’s” thoughts and feelings, traces from upper realms, are not directly touched by the outside environment, the point of biological life force, which is the “nefesh” is directly touched and affected.
Following the universe experienced as bio-forces, comes the material world, the world where chemistry and physics prevail. Here the material of the world refine and refine until it is capable of housing a “nefesh” by forming a body, which express her many potentials.
Since the earthly realm provides material which creates the body, everything the body perceives is physical. There’s little or no buffer between the anatomical environment of the body and the physical surrounding environment. That’s why clean air and healthy food have a positive impact on the body.
However, the outer environment does not directly touch what the human soul brings as traces from previous levels, like intellect, emotion and bio-force. While these traces are affected by the environments on their own native levels, they enter the earthly realm incapable of direct contact with the new environment.
So it comes out that what is considered a “soul” by a lower level is considered a “body” by an upper level. For example, a “ruach” would be considered a soul for “nefesh”, but a body to “neshoma”. This means that ultimately there are only a series of bodies bringing down, level by level, a core identity from the highest reaches to the lowliest earthly.
This concept can explain other possible dynamics as well. Like for example, passing away seems to be a situation where the physical body drops off the chain of bodies connecting a core identity with the earth plane. At this stage the “nefesh” becomes the next lowest level and the person finds himself or herself in the spiritual “Assiyah”, in an environment filled with bio-life/bio-light. Since there’s a closeness to the physical realm and much of this realm is biologically alive, there still can be some connection. From hence probably come most of the true stories about contact with those who passed on. This can also explain why most cultural depictions of the afterlife seem to most clearly resemble a “nefesh-life” perspective. In these depictions the soul is an entity which experience higher thoughts and feelings, but not divine thought and/or feeling itself.
All this makes me wonder what’s the model for describing souls as ascending levels in the spiritual realms themselves. Examples of this might be on the anniversary of someone passing on when the soul ascends to a higher level of paradise or souls ascending from the lower Garden of Eden to the higher one every Sabbath. Is the model that the lowest level of the chain drops off, exposing what was previously a clothed layer, or does the entire chain purify and ascend intact? Then of course the next question is what is a descent? Is it a densifying of the intact chain or is it a resurrection, where the chain picks up a link left behind upon ascending?
The Scriptural tradition provides models for both possibilities. On the one hand, there are most people, who leave their bodies behind to await resurrection. On the other hand, there are figures like Elijah and Enoch who ascended with an earthly body converting into spiritual material. I once heard in a class on Jewish mystical thought that Moses’ earthly body ascended intact to “Yetzirah” and then separated from the rest of the soul chain. This makes sense because he already ascended alive to “Yetzirah” to receive the Torah. That’s why the Talmud teaches that he was surrounded by angels, beings that primarily inhabit “Yetzirah”. Since he ascended once alive, earthly body intact, why not again? Since he’s not interred in this realm, this is part of why nobody knows where he’s buried.
This is what I call “thinking outside boxes”. I’ve seen a few students of Kabbalah represent levels as “boxes” and never seem delve into the nature of the levels they describe or how they change based on the dynamics of their interactions. I really don’t relate well to moving around boxes on paper without understanding what these boxes mean in more than name only. To me that kind of treatment of the subject material is not called, “knowing a topic”.