The Kabbalah posits that the human soul has three elements, the nefesh, ru'ach, and neshamah. The nefesh is found in all humans, and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one's physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of the soul are not implanted at birth, but can be developed over time; their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. A common way of explaining the three parts of the soul is as follows:
- Nefesh (נפש ) - the lower part, or "animal part", of the soul. It is linked to instincts and bodily cravings.
- Ruach (רוח ) - the middle soul, the "spirit". It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil.
- Neshamah (נשמה ) - the higher soul, or "super-soul". This separates man from all other lifeforms. It is related to the intellect, and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. This part of the soul is provided at birth and allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God.
The Raaya Meheimna, a section of related teachings spread throughout the Zohar, discusses fourth and fifth parts of the human soul, the chayyah and yehidah (first mentioned in the Midrash Rabbah). Gershom Scholem writes that these "were considered to represent the sublimest levels of intuitive cognition, and to be within the grasp of only a few chosen individuals". The Chayyah and the Yechidah do not enter into the body like the other three - thus they received less attention in other sections of the Zohar.
- Chayyah (חיה ) - The part of the soul that allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force itself.
- Yehidah (יחידה ) - the highest plane of the soul, in which one can achieve as full a union with God as is possible.
Both rabbinic and kabbalistic works posit that there are a few additional, non-permanent states of the soul that people can develop on certain occasions. These extra souls, or extra states of the soul, play no part in any afterlife scheme, but are mentioned for completeness:
- Ruach HaKodesh (רוח הקודש ) - ("spirit of holiness") a state of the soul that makes prophecy possible. Since the age of classical prophecy passed, no one (outside of Israel) receives the soul of prophesy any longer. See the teachings of Abraham Abulafia for differing views of this matter.
- Neshamah Yeseira - The "supplemental soul" that a Jew can experience on Shabbat. It makes possible an enhanced spiritual enjoyment of the day. This exists only when one is observing Shabbat; it can be lost and gained depending on one's observance.
- Neshamah Kedosha - Provided to Jews at the age of maturity (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and is related to the study and fulfillment of the Torah commandments. It exists only when one studies and follows Torah; it can be lost and gained depending on one's study and observance.