“Rabbi Shim’on was sitting delving into this portion [Pineḥas] when his son, Rabbi El’azar, came and asked him, ‘What do Nadab and Abihu have to do with Phinehas? If we say that Phinehas didn’t exist in the world when they died and only later came into the world, restoring their place—not so, for, in fact, Phinehas was in the world, serving as deputy high priest, his soul enduring vitally within him!’
He replied, ‘My son, there is a sublime mystery here, as follows: When [Nadab and Abihu] departed from the world, they were not concealed beneath the wings of the holy Rock [Shekhinah]. Why? Because it is written and they had no children (Numbers 3:4)—for they diminished the image of the King, despite being worthy of the high priesthood [cf. BT Yevamot 63a–b; Bereshit Rabbah 34:14, in the name of Son of Azzai: ‘Whoever abstains from procreation is as though he spilled blood and diminished the image’].
When Phinehas acted zealously for the holy covenant—entering amidst the multitudes and hoisting the adulterers on a spear in the sight of all Israel, with all the hordes of the tribe of Simeon coming at him—his soul flew away from him. Two souls that were naked [stripped of children], placeless, approached her, and they merged as one; and נִשְׁמָתֵיהּ (nishmateh), his soul, returned intermingled—כְּלִילָא רוּחָא דְּאִתְכְלִיל בִּתְרֵין רוּחִין (keliyla ruḥa de-itkelil bitrein ruḥin), a spirit mingled with two spirits, invigorated within him. Then he attained their place, to become high priest, which he did not deserve previously.
So he was נָקִי (naqi), innocent (Job 4:7), not perishing at that moment—his spirit did not perish when it flew away from him.
And where were the upright obliterated? (ibid.)—the sons of Aaron [Nadab and Abihu], for what was lost in their lifetime returned to the world. Thus of Phinehas is written son of, son of (Numbers 25:11), twice’” (Zohar 3:217a).
“And this was why Moses said: וַיִּתְעַבֵּר (va-yit’abber), and [YHWH] was angry, with me for your sakes (Deuteronomy 3:26)—the mystery of עִבּוּר (ibbur), impregnation. The Faithful Shepherd saved 600,000 certain times by rolling [into each generation, see Bereshit Rabbah 56:7: ‘There is no generation which does not contain men like Abraham, and there is no generation which does not contain men like Jacob, Moses, and Samuel.’ Cf. Rabbi Yitsḥaq of Akko, Me’irat Einayim 134a]. For this reason the blessed Holy One ascribed to him the merit of all of them, and this is why the Rabbis taught: ‘One woman in Egypt brought forth in one womb 600,000 at one birth’ [see Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 4:2]. And although the Rabbis expounded this verse with regard to other matters ‘Torah has seventy faces’ (Bemidbar Rabbah 3:15) [on the Rabbis’ interpretation of Deuteronomy 3:26, see BT Berakhot 32b; Sotah 13b]” (Zohar 3:215a, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).