The Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati, 9) makes the following comment regarding the flood which God brought during the time of Noach to destroy the earth:
The Almighty said: “When I triumph, I lose, and when I am defeated, I benefit. I defeated the generation of the flood – is it not I who lost, as I destroyed My world… But during the time of Moshe, when I was defeated, I received benefit, as I did not annihilate the Israelites…”
In Noach’s time, God “triumphed” in that He carried out His decree of annihilation, yet He ended up “losing,” in that He destroyed His world. In the time of Moshe, however, when God decreed annihilation upon Benei Yisrael, Moshe interceded on the nation’s behalf, and God was “defeated” and rescinded the decree. He thus ended up “benefitting,” as it were, in that His beloved nation survived.
The Midrash explains on this basis the verse in Yeshayahu (57:16), “For not forever will I fight, and not for eternity will I be enraged…” This verse, the Midrash asserts, should be read as, “I will not fight to triumph.” (The Midrash suggests reading the word “la-netzach” – “for eternity” – as “le-nitzu’ach” – “to triumph.”) God here proclaims that He much prefers being defeated, as it were, by compassionately forgiving wrongdoing and allowing His beloved nation to endure, over “triumphing” by treating them harshly and punishing them for their misdeeds.
It would appear that the Midrash seeks to convey the vitally important lesson that very often, victory is actually defeat. When we insist on “fighting,” on proving our position correct and defeating the other party, we may very well end up losing. When we find ourselves embroiled in an argument with a family member, friend or neighbor, persisting and winning the fight results in the loss of the relationship – much as God’s strict treatment of Benei Yisrael would have resulted in the loss of His special nation. Chazal here remind us that very often, losing is the far better option, that we sometimes gain much more by surrendering, forgiving and foregoing than we do by persisting and fighting. Of course, there are instances when one has no choice but to persist. God determined that the world needed to be destroyed and rebuilt anew in Noach’s time due to the irreparable state of evil that had prevailed, and He was prepared to “suffer” this “loss” for the long-term benefit of the earth and of mankind. Nevertheless, the Midrash takes note of the “loss” He incurred, so-to-speak, by this drastic measure. We must carefully determine when the benefits of an argument outweigh the losses, and recognize that very often – albeit not always – we gain more by desisting than we do by persisting.