Talk About Makeovers
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d told Moshe, "Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the
priest, stopped My anger towards the Children of Israel because he was
zealous on My behalf, which prevented Me from destroying them because of
jealousy." (Bamidbar 25:10-11)
Talk about your come-from-behind victories! There was Pinchas out in the
proverbial left field of history, possessing the proper genealogy but
lacking the proper timing to be from the chosen of the chosen, the
priesthood. His father was a kohen and his grandfather had been a kohen,
but having been born before the giving of the Torah, he lacked the
possibility to be a kohen himself.
However, what he had possessed was a tremendous love for G-d, Torah, and
his people, and unbeknownst to him at the time, it was to be his ticket
into the kehunah forever. Isn't it amazing how far an act of zealousness
on behalf of G-d can go - providing it is really on behalf of G-d.
In fact, that is the first lesson we learn from this week's parshah that
must be pointed out, especially in this day-and-age of suicide bombers.
It is one thing to be a zealot, but it is something altogether different
to be a zealot on behalf of G-d, as we learned from the episode of Shimon
and Levi when they wreaked revenge on the city of Shechem after the
violation of their sister, Dinah (Bereishis 34:1). Apparently their
intentions, as noble as they had been, had not been completely for G-d's
As we see today, that a person is prepared to die in the midst of an act
of zealousness is no proof that he is completely l'shem Shamayim. In
fact, very often when acts of zealousness have been necessary on behalf
of Torah, it has been the leaders of the communities who were asked to
carry them out, and not the laymen or less-learned people, to make sure
that it was done on behalf of G-d.
When people who know little halachah and who have yet to fully refine
their character traits get 'angry' on behalf of truth, it can be hard to
distinguish their own personal sentiments from those necessary on behalf
of the pure cause. Thus, the zealous act under such circumstances can be
at best partially on G-d's behalf and at worst, completely on the
would-be zealot's own behalf.
This is not to say that 'ordinary' people can't rise to the occasion and
perform great acts of courage and self-sacrifice. However, when it comes
to the Torah definition of 'kana'os' (zealousness), as alluded to in this
week's parshah, this is only the starting point. The remaining
requirement is the ability to become a pure extension of G-d's will on
earth, which can add decades of spiritual growth and character
Thus, for Pinchas to have been able to reach this level means that he
must have been quite special before he stepped into the picture. In
fact, for all we know, he was one of those 'things' that Divine
Providence 'set aside' from the beginning of history for a critical
moment just like this one. This could help explain what the Ba'al
Therefore, I give him My Covenant of Peace (Shalom). (Bamidbar 25:12)
...Another explanation of the severed 'vav' (the letter 'vav' if 'shalom'
is cut) is that Pinchas is Eliyahu. Likewise, we find that 'Eliyahu' is
written without the 'vav' (Aleph-lamed-yud-heh) and 'Ya'akov' is written
with its 'vav' (Yud-ayin-kuf-VAV-bais), which is said to have been taken
from Eliyahu as a surety until Moshiach comes and redeems his sons. This
is what it says, "Ya'akov will exult, Israel will rejoice (yismach)"
(Tehillim 14:7), the letters of 'yismach' being that of 'Moshiach,' for
there will be rejoicing in the Days of Moshiach when the 'vav' will be
returned to Eliyahu making it complete. (Ba'al HaTurim)
However, a few questions now arise for which it would be nice to receive
answers. First, how does one go from being Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon
HaKohen to Eliyahu HaNavi, the prophet who will herald in the coming of
Moshiach Ben Dovid and the Final Redemption? Second, when did Pinchas
make the transition, and why? Third, how can one function as a kohen if
the law is that a kohen who kills a person can no longer do so?
Elazar the son of Aharon took a daughter of Potiel for a wife and Pinchas
was born. (Shemos 6:25)
To appreciate who Pinchas is, you have to appreciate who he was. The
posuk just quoted is not from this week's parshah, but perhaps it is
linked to it by the fact that the parshah went out of its way to mention
Pinchas' family line. It certainly provides important insight into the
origin of Pinchas himself, as we see:
Regarding Pinchas' birth it says, "Elazar the son of Aharon took a
daughter of Potiel for a wife and Pinchas was born" (Shemos 6:25). On
this, Chazal say: Potiel - this is Yosef, 'sh'patpet' (controlled) his
yetzer hara; this is Yisro, 'sh'patem' (fattened) calves for idol
worship. This is the sod: when Pinchas was born, he incorporated two
soul-sparks. This is the meaning 'Potiel,' which is similar to 'tippin'
(drops), for he was from two soul-drops, one spark from the root of Yosef
HaTzaddik and the second spark was from the side of Yisro. This level
that incorporates these two souls is called 'Pinchas.' ... Thus, we find
that Pinchas received a soul-spark from Yisro, which was the level of Ohr
P'nimi of the Nefesh of Adam HaRishon from Atzilus. After that, Nadav
and Avihu died because they brought the unauthorized Incense-Offering
(Vayikra 10:1), and when Pinchas killed Zimri, he merited the souls of
Nadav and Avihu, which were the Ohr Makif of Adam of Atzilus. (Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, Chapter 32)
Thus, Pinchas the person was a real composite of illustrious spiritual
ancestry, some of which he inherited at birth, some of which he merited
through his act of zealousness. Receiving Nadav and Avihu AFTER having
killed Zimri can explain how Pinchas could, become a kohen after the
giving of the Torah, and second, to continue to function in the role of
kohen after having killed a person.
In other words, in an obviously very real sense, by receiving the souls
of Nadav and Avihu who had been kohanim in the first place, Pinchas
became the continuation of their lives, and thus merited the kehunah
himself. Furthermore, it had been the combination of soul-sparks from
Yosef and Yisro called 'Pinchas' who had killed Zimri and Cosbi, not the
new hybrid of souls that resulted from the act.
In fact, it was more crowded within Pinchas than that:
Thus, we find that four levels were in Pinchas. The first was that of
the Nefesh of Pinchas with which he was born, a single soul even though
it was the combination of two drops, one from Yosef and one from Yisro.
The second level was the Nefesh of Nadav and Avihu, which came into him
while he was already alive... The third was a Nefesh called 'Eliyahu
HaTishbi' from the root of Gad, and the fourth level was 'Eliyahu' from
the root of Binyomin. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 32)
Ahah! Well, as long as Pinchas could handle all that Heavenly help and
maintain a sense of identity, which he seemed to have no problem doing.
In fact, he stopped being Pinchas as a result, and instead became Eliyahu
HaNavi, though with intermittent sent backs. For:
Thus, in the incident with Zimri he merited the ibur of Nadav and Avihu,
as mentioned in the Zohar (Pinchas 217a), but he lost the ibur as a
result of the sin from the daughter of Yiftach. This is why the vav is
'cut,' to represent the sefirah of Yesod, which is called 'Brisi
Shalom.' It was actually 'cut' when he lost the Shechinah and the ibur
of Nadav and Avihu. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 32)
Rav Chaim Vital is referring to an episode in Tanach that happened while
Pinchas was still functioning as Pinchas, during the days of the
'Judges,' and specifically the judge Yiftach (2788-2792/972-968 BCE) -
over 300 years since Pinchas killed Zimri!
If you recall from the Haftarah for Parashas Chukas, in advance of
Yiftach's battle with the people of Ammon, he made a vow:
Yiftach declared a vow to G-d, and said, "If You will indeed deliver the
Children of Ammon into my hand, then it will be that whatever emerges -
what will emerge from the doors of my house - toward me when I return in
peace from the Children of Ammon, it shall belong to G-d and I shall
offer it up as an Elevation-Offering." (Shoftim 11:30-31)
Unfortunately, as wonderful an idea as Yiftach's vow was, it resulted in
Yiftach arrived at Mitzpah, to his home, and behold, his daughter was
coming out toward him with drums and dances. She was only a child; he
did not have another daughter or son of his own. When he saw her, he
tore his clothes and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me to my
knees, and you have joined those who trouble me. I have opened my mouth
to G-d and I cannot recant!" (Shoftim 11:34-35)
In other words, though Yiftach had intended to sacrifice an animal to G-d
in thanks for his victory over the Ammonites, instead his daughter
emerged first from his house, and instead she, Yiftach's only child,
became his sacrifice of thanks to G-d. He didn't slaughter her of
course, but instead she remained an unmarried woman the rest of her life
since she was holy to G-d from that point onward.
This became a practice in Israel: From year to year the daughters of
Israel would go and lament with the daughter of Yiftach HaGiladi, four
days of the year. (Shoftim 11:39)
So, what does this tragic story have to do with Pinchas? This:
Later in history, when the incident of the daughter of Yiftach HaGiladi
occurred, they (Eliyahu and Yiftach) were both punished. For, as Chazal
say, Yiftach was a judge and he did not want to come to Eliyahu to cancel
his vow, and Eliyahu did not want to come to him, for he said, "The one
who is suffering must come to the doctor" and thus between the two of
them, the daughter of Yiftach went. Yiftach, who was directly involved
in the incident was punished, and as a result, everywhere he went he lost
limbs, as it says, "They buried him in the cities of Gilad" (Shoftim
12:7) - in the plural. Eliyahu was punished by the departure of the
Shechinah, as Chazal say (Bereishis Rabbah 60:3) on the posuk, "And
Pinchas the son Elazar had been the supervisor over them in former times,
for G-d was with him (I Divrei HaYomim 9:20), which is talking about
Pinchas. Thus, it seems that Pinchas had been the 'supervisor' over
them, but no longer. After the Nefesh of Nadav and Avihu that had been
in him, the b'ibur was removed from him and it later reincarnated into
Shmuel HaNavi, as we will explain. This is the sod of what Chazal say:
The 'vav' of 'Brisi Shalom' (Bamidbar 25:12) is cut. They also say in
the Zohar (Acharei Mos), that the "yud" of 'Pinchas' is small (Bamidbar
25:11). (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 32)
However, we are not finished yet. For, Pinchas, or Eliyahu, was still
destined to make one more final dramatic return, one that would seal his
fate as the one to herald in the redemption from that time onward:
"The covenant of the priesthood will be his and his descendants forever,
because he was zealous for his G-d, and atoned for the Children of
Israel." (Bamidbar 25:13)
Rav Chaim Vital, in the name of the Arizal, continues:
After this, his name changed to "Eliyahu HaTishbi." Nadav and Avihu had
not been rectified in him, and Pinchas, himself from the side of Yisro,
had been involved in the sin of the daughter of Yiftach. Eliyahu from
the tribe of Binyomin had only been in him b'ibur to join together the
other souls. Thus, what remained as the main part was Eliyahu from the
root of Gad, and therefore he could no longer be called "Pinchas," but
rather, "Eliyahu HaTishbi," alluding that his soul was from the tribe of
Gad. Prophecy returned to him after he was called "Eliyahu HaTishbi,"
and after Shmuel had died so that Nadav and Avihu could return to him
b'ibur during the incident of Mt. Carmel. At that time, the people fell
on their faces and said, "Hashem is Elokim" (I Melachim 18:20-29). When
they said, "Hashem is Elokim," they [Nadav and Avihu] were forgiven for
their sin of "cutting off their plantings" when they blemished the Divine
Presence. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 32)
Therefore, what Eliyahu lost he regained: the souls of Nadav and Avihu.
With the souls returned his prophecy, never to leave him again. His act
of kana'os at Mt. Carmel when he upstaged the priests of Ba'al brought
him, the souls of Nadav and Avihu, and the generation of that time,
tikun. It was a happy ending to an almost tragic story, and a dramatic
finale to a very long and illustrious career.
In the year 3043, (almost 600 years!) from the time Pinchas acted on
behalf of G-d to kill Zimri and save the Jewish people from themselves,
Eliyahu HaNavi ascended to Heaven in a fiery chariot (I Melachim 2:11).
And, in case you were wondering:
He (Eliyahu) found respite in the cave at Har Chorev, until he went up in
a windstorm to Heaven. It was Eliyahu HaTishbi from the tribe of Gad who
ascended to Heaven, and he did not descend again. However, Eliyahu from
the tribe of Binyomin, reincarnated into the one mentioned in the posuk,
"And Ya'areshyah, Eliyahu, and Zichri were the sons of Yerucham" (I
Divrei HaYomim 8:27). Later, when he died, he ascended to join Eliyahu
HaTishbi who had ascended. It is Eliyahu from the tribe of Binyomin who
ascends and descends constantly to perform miracles for the righteous,
and to speak with them. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 32) Not to mention
stops by Seder Night at the houses of Jews around the world towards the
end of the Seder when we open the door and recite 'Sh'foch chamasecha."
However, in Yemos HaMoshiach, he will have an additional role to fulfill,
once redemption becomes a thing of the past, may that be soon in our
In the "End of Days" in the generation of Moshiach, Moshe will return to
teach Torah to Israel and will still be of "uncircumcised lips."
However, Eliyahu, who will be "chai," will be his interpreter, and this
is the sod of the posuk, "Pinchas the son of Elazar son of Aharon
HaKohen" (Bamidbar 25:11). This is as it is written, "If [one is drawn]
to scoffers, he will scoff" (Mishlei 4:37): when they will need a
translator for Moshe, Eliyahu who will be "chai" will translate and be
Moshe's interpreter. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36)
As some more Kabbalistic commentators point out, "uncircumcised lips" has
always meant that Moshe's understanding of Torah is on too high a level
to be expressed to the average Jew. In the desert, it required Aharon
HaKohen to learn it from Moshe, and step it down for the masses.
Apparently, Eliyahu will act in a similar function in Yemos HaMoshiach, a
trait that he inherited from Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon HaKohen.
And there you have it: a brief overview of the life and times of Eliyahu
HaNavi, nee Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon HaKohen.
It happened after these events: The son of the woman, the landlady,
became ill. His illness became very serious until there was no more
breath left in him. She said to Eliyahu, "What is there between me and
you, O man of G-d, that you have come to me to call attention to my sins
and to cause my son to die!" (I Melachim 17:17-18)
So begins one of the most moving stories in Tanach, which also involves
Eliyahu as well. Unfazed, the prophet told the woman,
"Give me your son."
Which she did, and Eliyahu carried the dead boy upstairs to where he was
staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he turned Heavenward and
"G-d, my G-d, have you brought harm even upon the widow with whom I
dwell, to cause her son to die?"
Then, he stretched himself over the boy three times and called out to
"O G-d, my G-d, please let this boy's soul come back within him."
And, He did. In the end, the boy came back to life, and Eliyahu brought
him to his mother who was, needless to say, beside herself with joy. She
"Now I know through this that you are a man of G-d, and that the word of
G-d in your mouth is true (emes)."
End of story, right?
It seems to me that the two of them reincarnated into Eliyahu of
Binyomin. The level called the "Drop of Yosef," Eliyahu gave to Yonah
ben Amitti HaTzarafis when he revived him (I Melachim 17:17-23). This is
the sod of what is written in the Zohar: It was taught: Yonah came from
the legion of Eliyahu, which is why he is called, "ben Amitti" ("son of
Truth"), as it says, "and that the word of G-d in your mouth is true!"
(I Melachim 17:24), (Vayakhel 197a), (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 32)
That's right, Yonah, as in Yonah and the big fish! The one who was sent
by G-d to warn Nineveh about impending doom, but who chose instead to run
away to Tarshish, only to be thrown overboard when the ocean became
violent on his account. That Yonah.
Amazingly, not only did he die and rejoin the living, but it was also
said of him:
This is also the sod of what Chazal write: It was taught in the school
of Eliyahu, "The lad that I revived was Moshiach ben Yosef."
As in Moshiach Ben Yosef - who is supposed to come in advance of Moshiach
Ben Dovid and pave the way for the Final Redemption and Yemos
HaMoshiach. Thus, it seems, no matter which way Eliyahu turns, he is
associated with redemption. With the way things are shaping up around
the world for the Jewish people now, we may be seeing more of him before
we know it.