Rav Kook once visited a kibbutz, a cooperative agricultural settlement. The rabbi noticed that its members were very meticulous about their work, but not so much about the laws of the Torah.
“My sons,” he said to them, “let me tell you a true story.”
There was a wise, old man who became ill. As a result of his illness, he forgot all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The doctors told the man, “We are sorry, but nothing can be done to restore your memory. You have no choice but to go back to school and start from scratch.”
So the old man enrolled in the local kindergarten and began learning the alef-bet all over again.
After a while, the teacher noticed that his new pupil started acting like the other children. He would get into fights with his classmates and do other silly things. The teacher realized he needed to have a talk with the man.
“It is true that, in terms of your studies, you are like the children here,” the teacher explained. “But do not forget that you are a wise, old man!”
Rav Kook concluded his story, telling the kibbutz members:
“The same holds true for the Jewish people. Ever since we were exiled from our Land, we have forgotten how to work and farm. So we are starting again from scratch. Nonetheless, let us not forget that we are a wise, old nation.”
(Adapted from Malachim Knei Adam, p. 394)