1) AGADAH: THE RESPONSE OF SHEMAYAH AND AVTALYON TO THE KOHEN GADOL'S INSULT
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that on one Motza'i Yom Kippur, as the people escorted the Kohen Gadol to his home from the Beis ha'Mikdash they saw the two great sages, Shemayah and Avtalyon. In deference to the Torah sages, they left the Kohen Gadol to accompany Shemayah and Avtalyon.
When Shemayah and Avtalyon came later to the Kohen Gadol to take leave of him, he said to them, "Let the descendants of the [gentile] nations go to peace," a derogatory reference to their status as converts. They responded, "Let the descendants of the [gentile] nations, who perform the act of Aharon, go to peace, and let not the descendant of Aharon, who does not perform the act of Aharon, go to peace."
In what way did Shemayah and Avtalyon feel that they "performed the act of Aharon" more than the Kohen Gadol?
(a) RASHI explains that Shemayah and Avtalyon meant that they acted in accordance with the attribute of Aharon, who always pursued peace and brotherhood (Avos 1:12). They told the Kohen Gadol that his insult to them was not in accordance with the attribute of Aharon who pursued peace.
(b) The KOZHNITZER MAGID (the "Avodas Yisrael," cited by RAV TZADOK HA'KOHEN in PRI TZADIK, Erev Yom Kippur #3) suggests an original interpretation for this incident. The Kohen Gadol had become arrogant after he performed the Avodah of Yom Kippur; he viewed himself to be of great importance for having entered the Kodesh ha'Kodashim and achieved atonement for the Jewish people. A consequence of this arrogance was his insult to Shemayah and Avtalyon. He derided their status as converts and implied that it was because of his lofty familial descent that he was privileged to enter the Kodesh ha'Kodashim and perform the Avodah, which they, as converts, could never do.
They responded that his pride was inappropriate. It was not a result of his Avodah in the Beis ha'Mikdash that the Jewish people were granted atonement, for the Avodah of an insolent Kohen certainly is not effective. (Indeed, it was unlikely that he lived past that year, as the Gemara says on 9a.) Rather, the atonement was granted as a result of their Avodah: through their prayers on Yom Kippur and their recitation of the order of the day's Avodah with all of the proper intentions, they effected atonement for the Jewish people. The Kohen Gadol's Avodah alone was not effective because it was done without proper intent, sanctity, and purity. The Tzadikim performed the real Avodah of Yom Kippur.
This is what Shemayah and Avtalyon meant when they said, "Let the descendants of the nations, who perform the Avodah of Aharon, go to peace, and let not the descendant of Aharon, who does not perform the Avodah of Aharon, go to peace." It was the descendants of the nations, Shemayah and Avtalyon, who performed the Avodah that attained atonement for the Jewish people, and not the descendant of Aharon who did not properly perform the Avodah.
Perhaps their statement also included a response to the Kohen Gadol's remark about the difference between his lineage and theirs. The Gemara in Horayos (13a) teaches that the lineage of Talmidei Chachamim who toil in Torah is greater than the lineage of "a Kohen Gadol who enters the Kodesh ha'Kodashim."
2) AGADAH: THE "BIGDEI KEHUNAH" OF THE KOHEN GADOL
The Mishnah lists the four garments of the Bigdei Kehunah which an ordinary Kohen wears when he performs the Avodah and the additional four garments which the Kohen Gadol wears. The priestly garments are an integral part of the Avodah in the Beis ha'Mikdash. Just as the various types of Korbanos atone for different sins of the people, the various garments atone for different sins, as the Gemara in Zevachim (88b) describes.
A closer look at the significance of each garment reveals allusions in the Torah to its role in the Avodah in the Beis ha'Mikdash. The following two examples are culled from the work of Rav Mordechai Aran, the author of NIFLA'OS MI'TORASECHA.
(a) The Gemara in Zevachim (88b) relates that the Choshen, which is referred to as the "Choshen Mishpat," atones for "Ivus ha'Din" -- the corruption of justice by the judges. The word "Choshen" appears as an acronym in the Roshei Teivos (the first letters of consecutive words) in the verse, "Hash-m scrutinizes the righteous one, and He despises the wicked and the lover of theft" (Tehilim 11:5). The last three words in that verse are "Chamas San'ah Nafsho," the Roshei Teivos of which spell "Choshen." This is most appropriate, as that verse discusses Hash-m's abhorrence for the wickedness of theft, the sin which is the basis for the corruption of justice for which the Choshen atones. (There are only two other occurrences of the word "Choshen" as Roshei Teivos: in Yirmeyahu 23:32 and Nachum 2:1.)
(b) The Gemara teaches that the Me'il atones for Lashon ha'Ra, because the Pa'amonim and Rimonim (the bells and pomegranate-shaped forms) on the hem of the Me'il make noise as the Kohen walks. The sound that they make atones for man's misuse of his voice when he speaks Lashon ha'Ra.
The Midrash teaches that man's first sin, eating the fruit of the Etz ha'Da'as, originated with the sin of Lashon ha'Ra. When the Nachash convinced Adam and Chavah to eat from the Etz ha'Da'as, it spoke Lashon ha'Ra about Hash-m (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereishis 8:8, and Rashi to Shemos 4:3; see Insights to Shabbos 56:2
). Those were the first words of Lashon ha'Ra ever spoken, and they are the basis for all subsequent words of Lashon ha'Ra. The Gemara in Erchin (15b) adds that the snake symbolizes the person who speaks Lashon ha'Ra: just as the snake derives no benefit from its bite, the person who speaks Lashon ha'Ra causes damage with his mouth but derives no personal benefit from it.
The verse commands that Rimonim be placed on the hem of the Me'il: "Al Shulav Rimonei Techeles v'Argaman" (Shemos 28:33). The Sofei Teivos (the last letters of consecutive words) of those words spell, "Livyasan." (This is the only occurrence in all of Tanach of the word "Livyasan" as an acronym in a verse, either as Roshei Teivos or Sofei Teivos.) The Zohar relates that when the prophet says that in the future Hash-m will kill the "Livyasan Nachash Akalason" (Yeshayah 27:1), the prophet refers to the original Nachash. The Nachash is identified as the Yetzer ha'Ra, and also as "Lilis," the force of evil which is aroused whenever a person speaks Lashon ha'Ra (Zohar, Pekudei 265a; Rav Moshe Cordavero in Sefer ha'Pardes, Sha'ar ha'Temuros 25:5). Accordingly, it is appropriate that the word "Livyasan" appears in the verse which discusses the Pa'amonim and Rimonim on the hem of the Me'il, for they atone for the sin of Lashon ha'Ra. The atonement they effect repeals the power of the Livyasan which is aroused when a person speaks Lashon ha'Ra. (When a word appears as an acronym of Sofei Teivos, it represents the end, or repeal, of something.)
Rav Aran adds that when the verse describes the people's fulfillment of the command to place the Rimonim on the Me'il, it says, "Al Shulei ha'Me'il Rimonei Techeles" (Shemos 39:24). The Sofei Teivos of those words spell "Lilis." This allusion also demonstrates that the Pa'amonim and Rimonim repeal the power of "Lilis" which is aroused by the sin of Lashon ha'Ra. (There is only one other occurrence in all of Tanach of the word "Lilis" as Sofei Teivos: Divrei ha'Yamim II 17:10.) (See also Insights to Erchin 16:2.)