Any dispute for the sake of Heaven has enduring value, and any dispute that is not for the Sake of Heaven has no enduring value. What is an example of a dispute for the sake of Heaven? The ongoing dispute between the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. What is an example of a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his associates. (Pirkei Avot 5:20)
Parashat Korach begins with an argument. It's presented by Korach, a Levite, along with other prominent Israelites, who question why there has been one leader for forty years. All of the people, every one of them is holy, and God is among them -- why are you elevated over the community of Adonai? (Numbers 16:3)
The rabbis compare this to another dispute. The School of Shammai and the School of Hillel were groups among the early rabbis. They used to argue about the details of ritual -- At the end of Shabbat, what's the proper sequence for the wine, candle, and spices? They used to argue about ethics -- Is it ever permissible to lie? They used to argue about social policy -- Should rabbis take time to train students who are not yet spiritual and morally developed? They used to argue about philosophy -- Would the universe have been better off if human beings had not been created?
What makes the arguments of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel "for the sake of Heaven"? According to the Talmud, it's not the substance. It's not because they are rabbis, arguing about all the kinds of things other rabbis value. Instead, the Talmud tells us two things. First, the School of Shammai continued to let their children marry children of rabbis from the School of Hillel, despite their reservations about the others' practices and philosophies.
Second, there was one particular dispute that went on for three years, and it took a voice from Heaven to resolve it. God's representative declared that both sides had "the words of the Living God." But the School of Hillel should be followed -- because they pressed their arguments more calmly, they studied the other side's opinions, and they used to present the other's sides arguments before their own.
Isn't there something valuable about Korach's dispute? He too has some substance, in standing up for the idea that all the Jews are equally holy. But we can easily detect jealousy mixed in. Some of it is family jealousy too, since Korach and Moshe are cousins. Korach couldn't separate his personal stake from the bigger picture. His emotions racheted up the conflict. As a result, his dispute couldn't have enduring value.
Arguing and conflict are everywhere in Torah, and they are facts of life. The substance of arguments can have enduring value, worth studying. Sometimes, it's how we act during an argument that has the most lasting effect, and can teach us the most.