Rav Nachman guiding us away from a fragmented, contracted method of observation, instead
he directs us to learn to breathe deeply – to develop a broader outlook on all of life, one that includes both this world and eternity.
In the paragraphs of Torah 8 that follow, Rav Nachman connects the work of breathing and the notion of patience (erekh apayim, lit. ‘delaying anger’). In doing so, he expands upon his exploration of the work of breathing: something not merely technical and physical, but rather an activity that enables a broader and deeper perspective on reality. Rav Nachman writes that this avodah (work) is done by inhaling air into a limb that – in its tension and constriction – expresses a lack or a loss:
And sighing is the extension of the breath. It corresponds to erekh apayim(patience, delayed anger)—i.e., extended ruach. Therefore, when a person sighs over the lack and extends his ruach, he draws ruach-of-life to that which he is lacking. For the lack is in essence a departure of the ruach-of-life. Therefore, through the sigh, the lack is made whole.
(Sefaria: Likkutei Moharan Torah 8:1:5)
In the Kabbalah of the Ar”i, erekh apayim (or, in Aramaic, erekh anpin) is associated with the higher visage (partsuf hagavoha) of Divinity. Rav Nachman explains the matter in light of the teachings of Chaza”l regarding the patience of God. The nose is naturally connected to inhalation and exhalation, and arikhut anpin (patience, lit. ‘extended anger’) is, at its simplest, a long, deep breath that enables the entrance of a great amount of air inside. Symbolically, a long, deep breath represents the ability to see things in a new, broader perspective.
Our regular perspective is usually quite narrow, with a day-to-day, problem-to-problem focus. Can a person look out from the vantage point informed by a ‘whole’ life, a perspective that widens until it becomes a viewpoint of netzach (eternity)? Can he weigh whether his life is worthwhile from the perspective of netzach, evaluating whether his life is valuable with a broader picture in mind? Rav Nachman calls for precisely this type of contemplation. Guiding us away from a fragmented, contracted method of observation, Rav Nachman instead directs us to learn to breathe deeply – to develop a broader outlook on all of life, one that includes both this world and eternity. This perspective allows us to understand the present in proper proportion, by considering our memory of the past and hopes for the future.
This happened to me, for example, when I found a certificate from third grade rating my mathematics marks as ‘almost very good.’ Looking at it, I remembered that at the time I was annoyed – I resented the grade, and believed that I deserved a higher mark. Considering it from my present-day perspective, I understand the incident in entirely different proportions. This understanding can be applied to what may happen in several years: we may perceive certain events as problematic and important today, yet in the perspective of netzach they lack any meaning. If we could view our days through the perspective of ‘arikh anpin,’ we could perceive the present in the right proportions.
The synthesis of netzach (eternity) and unstable change brings about the potent effect of arikhut anpin. This is the deeper meaning of man’s life. Life changes and shifts, but it receives its meaning from a backdrop of netzach, of eternity: this unique linkage embodied in man is the finiteness in netzach, in the Godly Being. That is why when someone has died, and those who remain experience him as having passed (with no possibility of return), then the sense of temporality disappears. With his death, the horizons merge: though he is in a long-finished past that cannot be changed, at the same time he becomes part of a divine experience. So too in our lives: to remember the past is to include the past in the present, to turn it into netzach. This perspective grants a deep meaning to existence, and can open a person up to transparency and clarity in his relationship, and perhaps even to decipher – through Hasidic sources – the root of his soul, and the best direction for him just then. This is when real meaning is uncovered: when one can view his life in true proportion,. And this is the idea of “arikhut apayim.”