The quest for eternal life is recorded by humanity as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh (22nd century BCE). Judaism does not attribute much value to eternal corporeal life in this world except in one notable personality.
Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen takes fatally violent vigilante action against a couple committing public and prohibited intercourse (Numbers 25:6-8). Rabbis and commentators expound at length the rarity of such vigilantism being sanctioned. They go into even more detail as to the spiritual, emotional and relational requirements of the vigilante himself who single-handedly acts as judge, jury and executioner.
Pinchas was apparently a rare individual, who under extremely trying circumstances, did the completely right thing at exactly the right time with utterly proper intentions. This combination of performing the right and dangerous deed against an entire nations-worth of disapproval or apathy, with pure and unwavering commitment to God, earns Pinchas the singular reward of the “Covenant of Peace” from God.
It seems odd that for such an outrageous and brutal deed, Pinchas should be rewarded with what seems the exact converse – Peace.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno also wonders at this apparent dichotomy of the aggressive man achieving Peace. Sforno explains that the peace Pinchas gets is a peace treaty with none other than the Angel of Death, who can no longer affect him.
In a sense, Pinchas, via his commitment, conquered Death. Sforno details that according to one opinion Pinchas went on to live for hundreds of years. According to another tradition, Pinchas is in reality the personality better known as Elijah the Prophet.
The following story from the Zohar reinforces the point:
“When God brought Elijah up to heaven, the Angel of Death stood against him.
God said: “For this purpose I created heaven: so that Elijah would come up here.”
Angel of Death: “God, now the people will have what to say – that they should not die, just as Elijah.”
God: “He is not like other people. He can eliminate you from the world; you do not know his power.”
Angel of Death: “Give me permission to go down to him.”
God: “Go down.”
As soon as Elijah saw him, he forced the Angel of Death beneath his feet and sought to eliminate him from the world, but God did not give him permission. Thereupon he bent the Angel of Death beneath him and went up to heaven. (Zohar Chadash 76a).”
Pinchas (a.k.a. Elijah) goes on to fulfill a number of eternal roles in Jewish history: Brit Milah, Passover Seder, and countless recorded physical appearances throughout the centuries.
May his long prophesized public return happen speedily in our days, preceding, as it is foretold, the Great and Awesome Day of God (Malachi 3:24).
To Rabbi Lazer Brody. By a series of circumstances, I ended up having the honor of driving this special man home to Ashdod from Efrat. His life’s mission is the hastening of the redemption via educating “Faith”.
I was most impressed by the books he translated of Rabbi Shalom Arush, and I highly recommend them. The Garden of Emuna (now reaching 1 million in sales – unheard of for Jewish books), and The Garden of Peace (a must for every married man).