Q: What is the best way to teach modesty at an early age?
A: There is external modesty and internal modesty. The simple meaning of the directive “and walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8) is that it is very, very uncomfortable for me when the good things that I do are publicized. That is modesty. This is something that can certainly be explained to even a young child. The two dimensions of modesty, both the external and the internal, are more applicable to girls and women. It is written that, ”the beautification of a mitzvah is modesty” (Derech eretz zuta 5). The beautification of a mitzvah is to perform it modestly. This is an example of a saying that every young girl should know by heart.
In the Hayom Yom [the calendar with aphorisms compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe] for the 8th of Tishrei, it is written that the thing that causes a chassid the most sorrow is if something that was between him and God is revealed or publicized. In this sense, every person should feel that he or she is both a revealed tzaddik, who influences others to do good – and a hidden tzaddik. The attribute of modesty is what makes an individual into a hidden tzaddik or tzaddeikes.
Educating only for external modesty in dress can miss the point and create antagonism. But, when the emphasis is on the inner meaning – then the message regarding the external aspect of this mitzvah goes smoothly, as well. This is a golden rule.