Interesting comments upon the history of some masorah.
THE DAF YOMI DISCUSSION LIST
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General: The Three Zechusim
Barry Robinson asked:
I have been asked to find the mekor for the well-known statement that Klal Yisroel were saved from Mitzrayim B'Zechus of the three things they kept - they did not change their names, their language and their clothing.
I have found several variants on this maamar in various Midrashic sources. Almost all of the variants list four Zechusim - for example, many of the variant versions remove mention of clothing and add that Klal Yisroel did not speak Lashon Hara and were careful about Arayos.
But everyone I talk to seems to remember learning the first version in school. Were we misled by our teachers or does this form of the Midrash really exist?
Cong. Or Torah, Skokie, Illinois, USA
The Kollel replies:
The earliest source seems to be Eliyahu Bachur (c. 1500), who quotes it the way we often hear it in the introduction to his Sefer Meturgeman. Shlomo Buber, in his notes to Pesikta d'Rav Kahana (Parshas Vayehi Beshalach fn. #66) makes your point and says Eliyahu Bachur has absolutely no source in Midrash. (It is not clear to me how the quote became so popular, perhaps it was used to defend Chasidic garb.)
There is one Midrash (Lekach Tov to Shmos 6:6) which counts among the four Zechusim that they didn't change their names or their "Salmos" (clothes). However, almost certainly the Lamed is a scribe's mistake. In either case it doesn't use the word "Levushan."
To me it would seem that the truth is Eliyahu Bachur's source is Bamidbar Rabah 13:20 where 3 (not 4) Zechuyos are counted and the third is that they were Gedurim Min ha'Ervah (and not that they were not Parutz b'Arayos - as it appears in every other Midrash). Gedurim means they took measures to prevent Arayos and it might refer to adopting the immodest Egyptian mode of dress. We find such Gedurim m'Ervah in practice in Chazal, such as in Rashi,
Sanhedrin top of 74b.
May we be Zocheh to fulfill all these Midrashim ourselves!
Best wishes for a Chag Kasher v'Same'ach!
Kollel Iyun Hadaf