If kings knew of my derech eretz [proper conduct], they would send their sons to study with me. (Rebbe Nachman, Sichot HaRan 19)
One must teach a child proper conduct from his youth. (Sefer Midot: Children 64)
Acting with proper and respectful manners is an important part of Rebbe Nachman’s path. His followers are expected to regard it seriously.
Our courtesy and good manners should be distinct from those of others. While it is possible to somewhat develop these traits without Torah, such as those who practice morality based on common sense and fairness, we are to be distinct, since Hashem commanded us how we should conduct ourselves. While others may choose to behave in an “ethical manner,” we are called to be holy. Therefore, even those mitzvot that are logical and fair are to be observed because Hashem commands them in the Torah. (Rebbe Nachman, Sichot HaRan 116).
Developing good midot and refraining from bad ones are part of the Torah’s path of self-improvement. Our Sages tell us that, “good manners are a prerequisite for Torah” (Vayikra Rabba 9:3). Rabbi Chaim Vital says that the midot are themselves the very source of the Torah (Sha’arei K’dusha 1:2).
A person with good manners guards the purity of one’s soul, and can fulfill the entire Torah in holiness. We must remember that it takes a lot of scrubbing in Gehinom to remove the stains of this world. If we refine ourselves here, we will not need to be cleansed in the World to Come.
Based on In All Your Ways, Collected Discourses of Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter, The Importance of Derech Eretz