But what is second nature to us might not be second nature to our children. As a result, parents develop sharp eyes for noticing what looks out of place and needs parental correction until it becomes reflexive. “Tuck in your shirt. Tie your shoes,” we might say to a child as he’s leaving the house for yeshivah.
He, the child, never even noticed that his shirt was untucked or that his shoes were untied. He doesn’t have to notice, at his age. That’s what parents are for. It’s their job to remind him to do the things he forgets. It’s their job to make sure that his buttons are buttoned, his shirt is tucked in, and his shoes are tied. They teach him proper dress and derech eretz. Because derech eretz is kodmah laTorah.
The parent may have to say it thousands of times reflexively, until it becomes reflexive for the child, as well. We’ve won the battle the day we turn to tell that child to tie his shoes and, lo and behold, we see him glance down at his feet to see that his shoes are already tied.
That’s the way it is. As parents, we remember for our children and remind them by rote, until such time as our norms are absorbed and become their second natures, too. But what happens to the newcomer to frumkeit? How does he learn the norms of the frum community until he no longer looks out of place?
Some pick it up by watching what FFBs, those who are “frum from birth,” do. Others learn by asking questions of those more knowledgeable. But like one of the arba bonim, there are those who do not even know enough to ask. That became apparent to Mrs. Deena Nahari, a volunteer at TheZone, Oorah’s summer camp, as she was preparing to shepherd a group of campers into the camp library for a learning session.
It was Shabbos, and this was the final session before seudah shlishis. When the group attempted to enter the library, they found the door locked. One girl was sent to find the key, and the group waited on benches for her return, with Mrs. Nahari keeping an eye on the campers.
As they sat and waited, reflexively, Mrs. Nahari’s eyes were drawn to one particular camper. The young girl was dressed for roller skating, with a helmet, knee pads, and, yes, roller skates. The mother in Mrs. Nahari said, “Take off the roller skating things, please,” as she would to a child of her own. This was a girl who, at her age, a girl of 14 or so, should have known better.
The girl looked at Mrs. Nahari and, with total temimus, asked her, “Why? Is there something in the Torah that says you shouldn’t wear roller skating clothes on Shabbos?”
Mrs. Nahari looked at the girl’s sweet face and realized that she really had no idea that she wasn’t appropriately dressed for learning Torah. How would she have known when her own parents were not involved in the Torah world? There had been no one to teach her these concepts of proper dress. “We don’t wear roller skating clothes when we learn Torah,” said Mrs. Nahari, now in a gentler, but still matter-of-fact tone.
This wasn’t a girl to be reprimanded because she should have known better, but a true tinok shenishba, an infant who couldn’t know these things. She was someone too new to be scolded, like a baby who must be taught from scratch. In that place, at that time, Mrs. Nahari assumed the role of this young girl’s mother, teaching her derech eretz, hoping that one day, this infant would become a bas Torah, capable of bringing sons into the world – sons who would sit in the bais medrash in white shirts, with every button buttoned, and both shoes properly tied, im yirtzeh Hashem, thanks to Oorah.