Posts Tagged ‘Pinchas’

Midrash Eleh Ezkerah is a dramatized narrative describing (with poetic license) the tragic executions of ten of Israel’s greatest sages at the hands of the Romans. The story depicts these ten as having lived contemporaneously and having been executed more or less in the same time and place, though this was not actually the case.

Nevertheless, in this work, the body of the sage Rabbi Akiva is carried by Elijah the Prophet. Elijah meets Rabbi Yehoshua haGarsi, who asks Elijah how he could carry Akiva’s dead body when Elijah is a Kohen, and a Kohen is forbidden to come into contact with a dead body, lest he become tamei — spiritually contaminated. Elijah replies, “The bodies of the righteous do not render spiritual contamination.”

It appears that the author of this narrative was of the opinion that Elijah was a Kohen, and therefore would line up with the opinion that Elijah was in fact Pinchas.

Mesilath Yesharim (The Path of the Just), ch. 19:

And Elijah said (I Kings 19:10): ‘I have been exceedingly zealous for the Lord of Hosts…’ We have already seen what reward he received for his zealousness on behalf of his God, as is stated (Numbers 25:13): ‘Because he acted zealously on behalf of his God and atoned for the Children of Israel.’


6th installment in “Pinchas is Eliyahu” series.

Another source similar to the previous, but with noteworthy differences:

Tana d’Vey Eliyahu Rabah 18:

One time, our sages and other wise men were sitting in the study hall and arguing with one another, and they said: ‘From where does Elijah come?’ This one said from the seed of Rachel and this one said from the seed of Leah. While they were arguing with eachother, I came to them and stood before them and said to them: ‘My masters, I come from none other than the seed of Rachel!’ They said to me: ‘Offer a proof to your words!’ I said to them: ‘Does it not say in the genealogy of the tribe of Benjamin: ‘And Yaareshyah and Eliyah (Elijah) and Zichri the sons of Yerucham’ (I Chronicles 8:27)?’ They said to me: ‘Are you not a Kohen (priest)? Did you not say to the widow: ‘Make for me from there a small cake first and take it out for me, and for you and for your son make last’ (I Kings 17:13)?’ [NOTE: The Torah obligates that a small portion of dough must be separated out as a gift for a Kohen before the rest may be consumed. The Sages inferred from Elijah’s command to the widow in this verse that he was Kohen and therefore she must separate out a small portion for him first. -Me] I said to them: ‘That child [of the widow] was Mashiach ben Yoseph (Messiah the son of Joseph) , and I was alluding to the world that I will descend first to Babylon and afterwards the Son of David will come.’

Let me first say that I have no clear understanding of this passage. I am familiar with the concept of Mashiach ben Yoseph as a kind of quasi-redeemer that may come prior to the final redeemer, Mashiach ben David (Messiah son of David). I do not know the relevance here of the widow’s son being Mashiach ben Yoseph. It is difficult to understand how the boy was Mashiach ben Yoseph considering there is no indication of who this boy was and in what way he brought about any redemption. Furthermore, Eliyahu goes on to say that apportioning a loaf for him first was a sign to the world (not to this boy in particular) that he (Elijah) would come first to Babylon, and then the redeemer would come, and the redeemer he names is Mashiach ben David, not Mashiach ben Yoseph. So if you’re confused, so am I.

The point, however, of quoting this passage, was to bring out the following points:

-Here again, according to the text in front of me, Elijah declares his lineage as being from Binyamin (the seed of Rachel).
-The text states explicitly that the opposing opinion (that Elijah was of the seed of Leah) is that he was a Kohen, as we suspected based on the passage from Eliyah Zuta. This opinion would align with the view that Pinchas is Eliyahu. Nevertheless, Eliyahu rejects this suggestion.

The conclusion of this source, therefore, appears to score another point for the view that Pinchas was NOT Eliyahu.

5th installment in the series exploring whether Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same.

I feel it noteworthy that the title of this midrashic work, Tana d’Vey Eliyahu, literally means, “The Teaching of the House of Elijah.” This midrash purports to be information transmitted from Eliyahu haNavi (Elijah the Prophet) himself to Rav Anan, a sage of the Talmudic era (circa 5th century CE). If true, this teaching represents the authoritative word of Elijah himself and ought to be granted especial weight, particularly on this subject.

From Tana D’Vey Eliyahu Zuta, Ch. 15:

Our Sages were sitting the study hall and saying, “From whence does Elijah come?” Some of them said that he comes from the seed of Rachel, and some of them said that he comes from the tribe of Gad, and some of them said that he comes from the seed of Leah. While they were sitting involved in this, Elijah came and stood before them. He said, “Our Sages, why are you distressed over this? I come from none other than the seed of Rachel!”

Note the similarity to the story from Midrash Rabah. I have quoted this midrash as well because of the addition of the opinion that Elijah was of the seed of Leah. This is a gamechanger because the Kohanim (priests) were of the tribe of Levi who was of the seed of Leah. Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron (Aharon) the High Priest, was of the seed of Leah. If Elijah was of the seed of Leah, then it becomes possible that he and Pinchas were the same. This opinion among the Sages may indeed be that voice from which the view that Pinchas is Elijah originates.

But what of it, you may ask. After all, Elijah appears at the end and clarifies the issue, concluding once and for all that he is a descendant of Rachel, confirming that view that he is of the tribe of Benjamin. So that’s that, right?

What complicates this conclusion is that there are alternative manuscripts of Tana d’Vey Eliyahu that indicate the opposite. In these versions, Eliyahu announces that he is of the seed of Leah, confirming the other opinion.

I have merely quoted the Tana d’Vey Eliyahu according to the standard printed version, which conforms to the Midrash Rabah quoted earlier. But as widely accepted a source as the midrashic anthology Yalkut Shimoni presents the text according to the opposite manuscript.

The conclusion from Tana d’Vey Eliyahu remains, therefore, ambiguous, scoring a full point for neither side, but setting an important precedent as the first source that does not absolutely contradict the possibility that Pinchas is Eliyahu, but might, according to some versions, even support it.


Please see the introduction to this series for context.

So we were talking about whether Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same. Popular belief has it that they are, while the sources we’ve examined so far indicate that they aren’t. Now, that said, the view that Pinchas is Eliyahu is not without basis — there are sources that indicate this, we just haven’t examined them yet. And, G-d willing, we’ll get there. But first I’d like to “cheat” a little bit — that is, share with you some thoughts I’ve had lately that I believe are very illuminating. So in order to just “get them out there,” we’re going to skip ahead a bit.

Basically, the main source (that I am aware of so far) that Pinchas IS Eliyahu is the Zohar, one of the primary sources in Jewish tradition for Kabbalistic or “mystical” ideology. But, as we have seen, this source appears to be contradicted by other midrashic sources. So, I was thinking lately, is this REALLY a contradiction?

While I do not intend right now to quote the entire passage of the Zohar and analyze it in depth, my current awareness of it has it indicating the following. When Pinchas stood up to slay Zimri in front of the nation, he had to go up against the entire tribe of Shimon who supported their leader, Zimri. Pinchas, despite his courage to undertake this mission, in the moment became so frightened that his soul forsook his body. In other words, he died. On the spot, however, the souls of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon (Aaron) that had died earlier in the Torah, were thrown into Pinchas’ body so that he remained “alive” to carry out his mission successfully. This explains how he became a Kohen (priest) as a result of this event — heretofore he was not a Kohen since he was a grandson of Aharon before the status of priesthood was conferred upon Aharon and his sons. Any grandson already born did not receive Kohen status. But by absorbing the souls of these two Kohanim, the newly invigorated Pinchas was now a Kohen by virtue of his Kohen soul.

The absorption of the two Kohen souls also explains (to some degree) the status of immortality conferred upon him according to these sources, as every human being is indeed only “half” a soul. The normal means of uniting with one’s “other half” is through marriage, however, here, two “half souls” united in one body to create a “whole” soul. As a “whole” person, Pinchas body and soul(s) could now live unendingly together, since his was no longer deficient in any way.

But what about Pinchas’ original “non-Kohen” soul? I would like to synthesize this question with the sources that indicate that Eliyahu was not a Kohen but was, indeed, from the tribe of Binyamin (Benjamin). Perhaps, when the mystical sources indicate that “Pinchas is Eliyahu,” it refers to Pinchas’ original non-Kohen soul being reincarnated into the non-Kohen Eliyahu later in history.

In this way, Pinchas remains Eliyahu while Eliyahu need not be a Kohen by lineage.

Make sense? Opinions?


Part 2 in a series exploring the widely held belief that Eliyahu ha-Navi (Elijah the Prophet) is synonymous with the character of Pinchas, grandson of Aharon (Aaron).

Sh’moth Rabah 40:

[Betzalel] was one of seven people who were called [several] names. Eliyahu (Elijah) was called four names… Rabbi Elazar ben Pedath said: [Eliyahu] was a Jerusalemite, and one of those who sat in the Chamber of Hewn Stone (i.e. a member of the Great Sanhedrin, or High Court), and he was from a city of Judah, and his portion was in two tribes (Benjamin and Judah).

The Midrash proceeds to cite verses demonstrating Eliyahu’s several names. Notably, not of these names are Pinchas. Secondly, the names cited are all individuals belonging to the tribe of Binyamin (Benjamin), which would not allow Eliyahu to be Pinchas since Pinchas was a Kohen, a grandson of Aharon (Aaron), the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Furthermore, since Eliyahu appears to possess a portion of land, this would seem to preclude him from being a Kohen since the Kohanim (priests) were not granted a portion of land, rather, “the Almighty is their portion.”

One of the cities the Midrash cites as belonging to the “portion” of Eliyahu is called Migdal Gad. The Midrash asks why the city was called by this name. The Midrash answers that it is from there that one would go forth who would cut down (megaded) the foundation of the idolators. This is a reference to Eliyahu himself. Therefore, the name of the town was given in accordance with Eliyahu’s destiny. This will become significant when we explore another source that contends that Eliyahu is from the tribe of Gad, offering a similar linguistic connection between the tribe’s name and Eliyahu’s role in history.

Summary thus far:

Source 1: Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer — Compares Pinchas and Eliyahu but implies they are too unique individuals, just with great similarities.

Source 2: Shemoth Rabah — Clearly indicates Eliyahu derives from the Tribe of Benjamin, precluding the possibility that he is the same person as Pinchas, the Kohen.

So that makes two strikes against the view that Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same.

Pirkey d'Rabi Eliezer

The 1st installment in a series examining whether Pinechas (aka Pinchas or Phineas) of the Torah is same personage as Eliyahu ha-Navi (Elijah the Prophet) of the book of Kings and later Jewish traditions.

Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer, ch. 47:

Rabbi Yehudah says: …Through the counsel of Bilam (Balaam) that he advised Midyan (Midian), 24,000 Israelites fell. Bilam said to them: ‘You cannot overcome this people unless they have sinned before their Creator.’ They immediately made shops outside the camp of Israel, and [the Israelites] could see the daughters of Midyan adorning their eyes (with makeup), and [the Israelites] strayed after them… Shimon (Simon) and Levi had been zealous regarding sexual impropriety, as it says (regarding the incident with Dinah in Genesis 34): ‘Shall he make our sister like a harlot?’ (v. 31). But the nasi (prince) of the tribe of Shimon did not remember what his ancestor had done, and he did not rebuke the men of Israel. Rather, he himself publicly had relations with the Midianite woman. All the nesiim (princes) and Mosheh (Moses) and Elazar and Pinechas saw the angel of death, and they were sitting and crying, and they did not know what to do. Pinechas saw that Zimri was having relations publicly with the Midianite woman, and he was filled with a great zeal. He grabbed the spear from the hand of Mosheh, and ran after [Zimri], and stabbed him. Therefore the Holy One Blessed is He gave him priestly gifts… [Pinechas] stood up as a great judge for Israel… and he struck the men of Israel, and dragged them to every corner of the camp of Israel so the people would see and fear. The Holy One Blessed is He saw what Pinechas had done, and He stopped the plague from upon Israel… Rabbi Eliezer says: The Holy One Blessed is He considered the name of Pinechas like the name of Eliyahu of the inhabitants of Gilad, who cause Israel to repent in the land of Gilad… and He gave him life in this world and life in the World to Come, and He gave him and his children good reward for the sake of eternal priesthood.

While Eliyahu and Pinechas are here equated with one another, it appears clear that they are distinct individuals, compared for similar deeds.

Click here for the next installment.