For many of us, few things are as disconcerting as conversing with someone who constantly disputes what we are saying. While intelligent discourse calls for a certain amount of give-and-take, we prefer that at least most of the time our positions find favor in the eyes of others.
This applies to Torah discussion as well. When repeating an original Torah thought, we are delighted when a relative or friend lavishes praise on it, especially if he also brings a proof that we are on the right track.
But is this the optimal approach?
Chazal (Bava Metziah 84) tell us that after Resh Lakish was tragically niftar, Rabi Yochanan, who was his mentor and study partner, was terribly distraught. The other Amora’im then sent Rabi Elazar ben Pedas, whom they considered to be most suitable, to learn with Rabi Yochanan.
He went and sat before him, and for every dictum uttered by Rabi Yochanan, Rabi Elazar quoted a braisa as proof of the accuracy of the statement.
But Rabi Yochanan was still inconsolable. He related that for every statement he made, Resh Lakish would raise 24 objections, to which he gave 24 answers. This led to a fuller comprehension of the matter being discussed.
Rabi Yochanan had no desire for proofs; he wanted to be challenged so that the depths of the sugya could be probed and the unvarnished truth verified.
The Ben Ish Chai quotes a parable of a landowner who, in his final moments, left a cryptic verbal will for his children.
“I hid a fortune in the irrigation channels,” he told them.
“Where?” they wanted to know.
“In the channels that bring the water from the river to the fields,” he said. Moments later he passed away.
His children dutifully dug up the entire length of the channels, searching anxiously for the hidden treasure. Despite all their backbreaking efforts, they found nothing.
The children were infuriated.
“Our father used his final moments to make fun of us,” they complained.
When the summer arrived and the children went to reap the produce that had grown in the field they had inherited, they were astonished to find that the crop was ten times as plentiful as those of all the surrounding neighbors.
Through their hard work in digging up the channels, they had ensured that the flow of water from the river would be abundant. The other field owners had made no attempt to ensure that the channels were sufficiently deep and clear of obstructions. Since less water irrigated their fields, their crops were much smaller as well.
It was then that they understood what their father had meant — the digging itself was the treasure!
The same applies to Torah thoughts. Through “digging,” asking hard, analytical questions that call for profound answers, one merits the abundance of the crystal-clear “waters” of Torah understanding.
The Ben Ish Chai says that this concept is alluded to in our parashah in the passuk Be’er Chaforuhah sarim … — the well that ministers dug; nobles of the people hewed it … (Bamidbar 21:18): “The well” — homiletically referring to the Torah — “that the ministers dug” — in order to reach the accurate chiddushim and halachos; — “sarim,” nobles — referring to those who are “sarim,” masters over their evil inclination — “hewed it.”