Bob:--There are no stupid questions. There is no shortage of things that we have never encountered before that require an explanation.
The periodic leak from your water heater is most likely the result of thermal expansion of the col water entering your water heater. As this cold water is heated, it expands just enough to discharge a small amount through the Temperature and Pressure releif valve. Easiest fix is to install a thermal expansion tank in the cold water supply line for the water heater. These tanks are readily available and come with installation instructions.