Right after the 6-Day War in 1967, the Israeli humorist Ephraim Kishon published a little book of cartoons called “So Sorry We Won,” satirizing the attitude he saw around him that shied away from anything like triumphalism. Like much of Kishons work, it was both entertaining and significant.
Now some 44 years later we still have something to learn from Kishons wry wisdom. Both in Israel and even more so in America we see those in authority so reluctant to seek victory that they would appear to welcome defeat.
Neither the U.S. nor Israel ever lost a war — until this generation. Victory was a goal that was not only possible, but required. Now it seems we are being told that defeat is not so bad. Give our enemies what they want, and we wont have to regret destroying their forces. Wasnt it just about 10 years ago that a senator named Harry Reid said “This war is lost.” Maybe thats the way he wants it. I would not pretend to understand Harry Reid.
Let us consider instead the tradition of the Three Weeks, a downhearted time on the Jewish calendar. Starting with the 17th day in Tammuz and continuing through the 9th of Av, observant Jews are in semi-mourning, avoiding frivolity, postponing weddings, wearing old clothes, etc. Why? Because this time in the summer is the time of major historical defeat for the Jewish people. On the 17th of Tammuz the Roman legions broke the wall of Jerusalem. Siege turned to occupation, which of course included oppression and torture of civilians in the city. No Geneva Convention then. After three savage weeks of that, on the 9th of Av — the well-known “tish’a b’av” — they burned down the Temple. Israel was defeated. Centuries of exile and persecution followed.
Why did we lose? That’s what the Three Weeks are about. Our ancestors of 1,941 years ago made some wrong decisions, violated some important principles. That cost them the war, cost them their independence and destroyed their religious headquarters. We still regret those mistakes.
One of those fatal blunders is detailed in the Talmud. “Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza Jerusalem was destroyed,” it tells us. It seems that during the siege a wealthy man in Jerusalem was actually giving a party. He told his servant to invite his friend Kamtza to the party. The servant goofed, and invited Bar Kamtza instead. Similar name, but wrong fellow. This one was definitely NOT his master’s friend. When Bar Kamtza showed up, the rich man refused to admit him — even though some scholars present urged him to let the mistaken arrival sit with them. No. The rich man sent Bar Kamtza away. In revenge, Bar Kamtza went straight out of town and betrayed Jerusalem to the Romans.
Venom like that seen in this story has a Hebrew name: “Sin’at khinam,” literally “causeless hatred.” Our enemies have showered us with it over the centuries. We name it as one origin of defeat. One of the fatal blunders we try our best to avoid.
These days we see leaders bending over backwards — and sometimes forwards — to apologize for victory. Offering to cancel hardwon victories to please our enemies. We see a generation forgetting the lesson of the Three Weeks. Here is that lesson:
Regret victory if you must. Just remember that you will regret defeat much more, and much longer.