What would you say is the theme of this week’s parsha of Emor? You would remember that the parsha discusses the laws of the kohanim that they may not approach a deceased person and the physical blemishes which render a Kohen unfit to participate in the service of the Beis Hamikdash. Other halochos of ritual impurity follow and after that, details of Shabbos and all the Yomim Tovim. You would probably say that there is no single theme, but a wide range of topics which happen to be in the same parsha. Perhaps, though, we are missing something … the theme which ties everything in the parsha together.
A number of mefarshim find it difficult to understand the rationale of tumas meis. A Kohen may not approach a corpse except that of a close relative. If he is in a house where somebody dies he becomes tomei. The ramifications of these halochos are quite significant. A Kohen may not participate in a funeral unless he stands under a different roof or outside, well away from the niftar. As a Kohen about whom the posuk says, “They will seek the Torah from his mouth,” (Malachi 2:7) he is just the person to direct the tzibbur how to give the correct kovod to the niftar by quoting the Chazal that “The loss of even one neshomo is like the burning of a Sefer Torah” (Moed Koton 25a) but he is excluded. As the head of the community, he should be giving the all-important hesped in honour of the deceased and the bereaved, but he is relegated to a side room, if he is there at all. Also, the concern that a person might suddenly be niftar prevents the kohen from visiting a patient who, in his last moments, may be in need of spiritual guidance and encouragement which the Kohen might be the most qualified to give. How can we understand this?
It is also difficult to understand the prohibition of the Kohen with a physical defect from participating in the service in the Beis Hamikdash. It seems unfair. He is already suffering from his defect and now he receives another blow, disqualification from performing the avoda. Despite his broken heart or perhaps because of it, he yearns for closeness to Hashem and longs to participate in the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash. There, in the holiest place on Earth, he would be able to plead with Hashem to heal him. His tearful tefilos would surely reach the kisei hakavod but his path is blocked. “Kohanim with blemishes must stop here.” He can only look from the distance. Where is Hashem’s mercy for this person in need?
“My income does not cover my expenses. I struggle to make a parnoso six days a week. What could be a better idea than taking advantage of a long Shabbos or Yom Tov afternoon to say Tehilim that my situation should improve? Or an obituary of a good friend is printed in the paper and Shabbos is the only time I have to read it. What could be wrong?” And yet the halocho does not allow it. Why?
In the Book of Ezra ( due to non-Jewish influence, it is found in Nechemia Chapter Two) we read, “It happened in the month of Nissan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes that wine was brought before him and I carried the wine and gave it to the king. I had never before appeared downcast in his presence. And the king said to me, why is your face downcast?” Why was Nechemia always careful to appear happy in the king’s presence until that day?
A king was visiting different provinces in his kingdom. In the first province the people took advantage of the king’s presence to cry out to him about their woes and plead for help. Although there was justice in their claims and the king truly wanted to help, he did not enjoy his visit. A second province heard that the king was coming. They decided to say nothing about their problems but rather prepared a banquet in the king’s honour. The food was excellent and a band played joyful music throughout. The king enjoyed his visit very much and when the people of this province later wrote to the king asking for his help in certain matters, he was only too pleased to respond generously.
Nechemia was always careful to appear happy in the king’s presence in honour of the king. A king wants his subjects to be happy. It is a sign of his success. There is a time and place for requesting his help but except for those occasions, it is kovod malchus to be joyful in the king’s presence.
Hashem gives us six days a week to attend to our needs and request His help but on Shabbos, when Hashem’s Shechina comes to our homes, the halocho requires us to radiate happiness. On Shabbos we must show kovod malchus by expressing our thanks to Him for all His help and by rejoicing in His presence with three sumptuous meals, singing and joy. We are not allowed to daven for our earthly needs or read something which might make us upset. The same applies on Yom Tov when we have a specific mitzva to be besimcha.
“Hashem is close to the broken-hearted” and hears their cries from wherever they come. No-one is more merciful than Hashem. But just as it is not appropriate to cry at someone’s simcha, it is not appropriate to cry in the Beis Hamikdash. There the Levi’im sang, accompanied by live music (Succah 50b). This created an atmosphere of simcha to enhance the kovod malchus . Were those with physical disabilities allowed to participate in the Avoda, they might well be tempted to cry out in prayer at a crucial point, disturbing the simcha and detracting from the kovod malchus.
Certainly a kohen’s presence would be helpful and educational at a funeral but more important for the tzibbur is to associate Hashem’s earthly representative only with simcha which creates kovod malchus. Unless it is a moed, a Kohen does not do the Avoda when he is an onen, on the day his close relative is niftar, because he is lacking in simcha. The Kohen Godol, who should be on the highest level of emuna, has the status of moed the whole year and even if he is an onen he continues to do the avoda because he should always be besimcha. (Moed Koton 14b)
This, then, is the theme of the parsha; to be besimcha because it increases kovod Malchus. Now, unfortunately, we have no Beis Hamikdash. But we have our mikdash me’at, our shuls and our homes. There we can honour Hashem by being besimcha, enjoying our Shabbos seudos, speaking about our many blessings and singing songs of thanks and praise to Hashem. As we say in Shabbos Musaf, “Yismechu b’malchusecho shomrei Shabbos.”