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Initially, God breathed a soul into Adam through his nostrils (Gen 2.7). So we definitely know that breathing (נשימה) is linked somehow to the soul (נשמה).

We require breathing to survive and without it, we die pretty much immediately; the capital punishment Heneck is based on this phenomenon.

But, how do the sages explain the need to breathe, both physiologically and spiritually?

Physiologically: what does it do? Air is not mentioned in the Torah, and IIRC was only "discovered" by the Greeks (see Air). So, unlike the physical food that we intake and digest, and that fuels our bodies, it is not clear what air is needed for.

Spiritually: if breathing relates to the soul, maybe to feed our souls we need to breathe in additional souls or parts of them and to exhale some parts of ours, and without that, the soul "starves" to death (just a suggestion).

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    I do not understand the question. Once the human was created, the physical breathing is basic just as with eating. The insertion of the soul in Bereishis was a metaphorical action. Jul 2 at 14:54
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    do we breathe in additional souls there's no precedent of humans breathing in souls (Hashem breathed it in, Adam didn't do anything...) so why would you ask this
    – robev
    Jul 2 at 15:29
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    I would venture a guess that breathing oxygen comes from our animalistic side and has nothing to do - other than perhaps some symbolism - with the fact that Hashem inserted our souls through breathing.
    – Harel13
    Jul 2 at 15:39
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    I don't think G-d breathed into Adam a soul. This is anthropomorphic.
    – Turk Hill
    Jul 2 at 21:52
  • @Harel13 You made the best progress in understanding the question, and I edited it to move further. What is it needed for? What tradition did the sages receive regarding it?
    – Al Berko
    Jul 3 at 21:54
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Bereishis Rabba 14:11

רַבִּי לֵוִי בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי חֲנִינָא אָמַר, עַל כָּל נְשִׁימָה וּנְשִׁימָה שֶׁאָדָם נוֹשֵׁם צָרִיךְ לְקַלֵּס לַבּוֹרֵא, מַה טַּעַם (תהלים קנ, ו): כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ, כָּל הַנְּשִׁימָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ.

Breathing is required so that we have a constant reminder to thank Hashem for our lives. (I once heard that is the reason a breath sounds like a "heh" so we remember Hashem with each breath, although I cannot find a source for that)

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  • Nice try! +1 Really appreciate it.
    – Al Berko
    Jul 8 at 6:28
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    That's not a translation of the Medresh.
    – Moshe
    Jul 8 at 13:28
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    I agree with @Moshe. The Midrash isn't saying what you say it is saying
    – robev
    Jul 16 at 11:22
  • It wasn't meant to be a translation
    – Chatzkel
    Jul 16 at 12:12
  • So then what do you want from the Midrash? It's not helping your answer, and he wanted something from our sages but what you wrote is unsourced.
    – robev
    Jul 16 at 12:56

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