1) AGADAH: "BIGDEI HA'SERAD"
QUESTION: The Gemara understands that the words "Bigdei ha'Serad" (Shemos 35:19) refer to the Bigdei Kehunah. (See, however, Rashi to Shemos 31:10, 35:19, and 39:1, who challenges this interpretation.) The Gemara explains that the Bigdei Kehunah are called "Bigdei ha'Serad" because if it were not for the Bigdei Kehunah, there would be, G-d forbid, no remnant ("Serid") left of the Jewish people.
In what way do the Bigdei Kehunah save the Jewish people? Moreover, if it is true that without the Bigdei Kehunah there would be no remnant left of the Jewish people, then why, after the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash, are the Jewish people still alive?
(a) RABEINU CHANANEL explains that the Bigdei Kehunah save the Jewish people by attaining atonement for their sins. He refers to the Gemara in Zevachim (88b), which he quotes earlier as well (Yoma 44a), which relates that the Bigdei Kehunah atone for various sins.
(b) RASHI explains that the Bigdei Kehunah enable the Kohen to offer Korbanos, which attain atonement for the sins of the Jewish people. Without the Bigdei Kehunah, the Kohen is not permitted to perform the Avodah in the Beis ha'Mikdash.
Rashi's explanation is difficult to understand. Why does Rashi say that the Bigdei Kehunah save the Jewish people because they enable the Kohen to offer the Korbanos? He should say simply that the Bigdei Kehunah themselves attain atonement for the Jewish people (as Rabeinu Chananel says). (RASHASH)
Apparently, Rashi is bothered by the Gemara's expression, "If not for the Bigdei Kehunah, there would be no remnant left...." Even if there were no Bigdei Kehunah to atone for the sins of the people, the Korbanos would atone for their sins! Rashi therefore explains that the Gemara means that without the Bigdei Kehunah, no atonement would be provided by the Korbanos because the Korbanos cannot be offered without the Bigdei Kehunah.
(Rabeinu Chananel perhaps understands that since the Bigdei Kehunah may be worn all day, the verse emphasizes them as the element which provides for the continued existence of the Jewish people. Even at a time when no Korbanos are offered (such as at night), the Bigdei Kehunah still provide Kaparah, for the Bigdei Kehunah are worn even at night.)
Why, though, do the Jewish people exist today when there is no Bigdei Kehunah (to attain atonement, according to Rabeinu Chananel, or to enable the Korbanos to attain atonement, according to Rashi)?
The Gemara in Ta'anis (27b) answers this question. The Gemara teaches that when there is no Beis ha'Mikdash, a person attains atonement by reading and studying the portions of the Torah which discuss the Korbanos. "Whenever they recite the Seder ha'Korbanos, I consider it as if they offered Korbanos before Me, and I forgive them for their sins." (According to this approach, Rabeinu Chananel apparently maintains that when one reads and studies the portions of the Torah which discuss the Bigdei Kehunah, he becomes worthy of the atonement which they provide.)
(c) RABEINU ELYAKIM suggests another explanation for the words of the Gemara. He explains that the Torah calls the Bigdei Kehunah "Bigdei ha'Serad" because they remained even after the Beis ha'Mikdash was destroyed. Just as the Tzitz, one of the Begadim of the Kohen Gadol, was taken to Rome at the time of the Churban (see Shabbos 63b), so, too, the rest of the Bigdei Kehunah were taken to Rome. They are still there today, and thus they provide atonement for the Jewish people (even though they are not being worn).
This approach explains why the Gemara mentions the Bigdei Kehunah and not the Korbanos as the source for the Jewish people's existence, and it also explains how the Jewish people attain atonement from the Bigdei Kehunah today when the Beis ha'Mikdash is not standing.