The higher levels, nehsama, chayah, and yehidah, function in a way that they connot be directly affected by what a person does to his or her consciousness. However, they are indirectly affected by the states of the nefesh and ruach. After death, the higher levels of the soul will return to their home “regions,” but they must await the redemption of the nefesh before finally resting in their natural states.
If the nefesh does not get redeemed, the ruach cannot be “crowned” in the lower Garden of Eden. If it cannot be crowned, the higher soul levels cannot reach the center of awareness. In this sense, all of the levels are “punished” by having to await the redemption of the lowest level of soul, the nefesh.
It is said that the nefesh wanders between the grave and the dwelling place of the deceased for the first seven days after death, looking for its living body. After, the nefesh is purified in gehennom, and then it wanders the world until it has a garment (signifying an awareness level) (Zohar I;226a-b). This process of purification takes twelve months. Once it has its garment, it gains access to the lower Garden of Eden, where it joins the ruach. The ruach then gets crowned, the neshama unites with the Throne, and all is well.
In a remarkable section, the Zohar outlines the process of the purification of the nefesh during the twelve months after death, suggesting a completely different scenario from what most of us have been taught. The Jewish mystical system is designed to continue the process of tikkun olam (mending the universe) even after death. The reader must keep in mind that the language of Kabbalah is poetic, the images are metaphors, and the intention is to arouse the soul rather than the mind. Form this perspective, let yourself enter these mystical teachings as a garden of delights.
Once a nefesh no longer has a body, it loses its free will, which is associated only with living people. (Zohar II;225a). Therefore, it no longer can redeem itself, but needs the guidance and help of a living being with free will. In this context, there are a number of ways in which a nefesh can be redeemed. (p. 262)
Kabbalah adds another dimension to death, suggesting that it is not monolithic but has a number of levels. It says that the Angel of Death is protected and “ridden” by the Shadow of Death. Although they have different energies, they are inseparable partners. Moreover, they different gateways into the realm of death, for there are ”gates of death” and “gates of the shadow of death.” Indeed, it is said that there are innumerable, mysterious passageways to death “hidden from humankind, who know them not.” (Zohar I;160b). (p. 280)
From God is a Verb, Rabbi David A. Cooper, Riverhead, 1997