Rashi cites a dialogue between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem. Moshe asked the Almighty, “How do I enter the tents to determine the number of infants in their home?” It would have been improper for Moshe to enter the Levite tents to count the number of suckling infants. Hashem responded, “You do yours and I will do mine.” Moshe would go to the entrance of each tent and wait outside while the Shechinah preceded him, after which a Heavenly voice would proclaim the number of babies in the tent. We must understand how it was that Moshe decided to do things “his way.” What prompted him to imply that he could not enter the tents of women with infants? Hashem instructed him to take a census; he should assume his responsibility and do what must be done!
Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, posits that the middah, character trait, of derech eretz, proper manners and behavior, is an integral component in Torah study. Human decency and moral behavior demand that one does not enter a private home where there is a nursing mother and child. Consequently, this cannot be Hashem’s command. If it is against the rules of derech eretz, then obviously Hashem meant for Moshe to count the infants from outside the tent. Proof of this thesis is the fact that the Torah recognizes Moshe’s act as consistent with Hashem’s command. Although we do not find Hashem commanding him to remain outside, if it is not derech eretz to enter, then it is as if he were commanded to remain outside.
Perhaps if we would all realize that derech eretz is not simply something we learn about in a mussar sefer, but rather an integral component of our Torah study and achievement, we would present ourselves in a different manner and view others in a different light.