In Parshas Emor, G-d ordains laws prohibiting kohanim from becoming defiled by the dead. This means that a kohein is forbidden not just to touch a corpse, but also to be in the same building as a corpse or to enter a cemetery.
But there are exceptions. A kohein is allowed — indeed, he is commanded — to become ritually impure by coming into contact with the body of “his flesh that is close to him: to his mother, to his father, to his son, to his daughter, to his brother and to his [unmarried] sister” (Vayikra 21:2- 3). Curiously, no mention is made in the verse regarding a kohein’s closest relation, his wife. A literal reading of this verse would lead one to believe that a kohein may not attend to his deceased wife.
This is not so, explains the Talmud in Yevamos (22b). The term, “his flesh that is close to him,” rather than serving as an introduction to the subsequent list of relations specified by the verse, is in fact part of that list. It is a direct reference to his wife. His wife is “his flesh that is close to him.” This knowledge sheds considerable light upon the Torah’s concept of marriage.
Contemporary social thinkers tend to depict marriage as a social contract that results from falling in love.” But marriages based on this idea often fail as love, in our modern milieu, is fleeting and often disappointing.
The Torah, on the other hand, establishes a criterion for marriage that transcends all others. After G-d united Adam with Chavah, the Torah states, “Therefore, man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Bereishis 2:24). One flesh: There is no better way to describe the relationship of man and woman in marriage.
The halachic dictum learned from the law of the kohein — “‘his flesh’: this means his wife” — is the quintessential definition of marriage. A husband and wife are considered by the Torah to be one flesh, a singular being. This bond does not fall away when, for better or worse, conditions change. It holds when the sun shines and when the pall of grief’s darkness prevails. When he laughs, she laughs. When she cries, he cries.
My dear chassan and kallah, this sense of unity is all that is needed to build a strong and faithful Jewish home. My fondest gift to you is found in the statement of the twelve tribes to their father, Yaakov: “As there is only One in your heart, so too in our hearts is there only One.” Together, may the two of you be one forever.