Whoever the Man Desiring Life Keep Your Tongue from Evil and Your Lips from Speaking Deceit
A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a smooth mouth pushes one down (Proverbs 26:28).
“Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose son of Zimra: What is: What can it give you, what can it add, a tongue of deceit? (Psalms 120:3). The blessed Holy One said to the tongue: All members of the human body are standing, you are lying; all members of the human body are outside, you are guarded inside; not only that, but I surrounded you with two walls, one of bone and one of flesh; What can it give you, what can it add, a tongue of deceit! And Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose son of Zimra: One who bears evil tales almost denies the Root, as is said: Those who said, ‘Let us make our tongue great, our own lips are with us—who is master to us?’—further did Rabbi Yoḥanan say in the name of Rabbi Yose son of Zimra: Any one who bears evil tales will be visited by the plague of skin blanch, as is said: Who defames in secret his fellow, him אַצְמִית (atsmit), shall I destroy (Psalms 101:5). And there it is said: לַצְּמִיתֻת (La-tsemitut), irreversibly (Leviticus 25:30) which we translate as: לַחֲלוּטִין (la-ḥalutin), absolutely, and we learnt: one afflicted with skin blanch that is shut up differs from one afflicted with skin blanch that is certified unclean only in respect of unkempt hair and torn garments [cf. BT Megillah 8b]. Resh Laqish said: What is the meaning of: This shall be the teaching concerning הַמְּצֹרָע (ha-metsora), the one struck with skin blanch (Leviticus 14:2)? This shall be the teaching concerning מּוֹצִיא שֵׁם רַע (motsi shem ra), one who brings out an evil name. Resh Laqish said further: What is the meaning of: If a snake bites with no snake-charm, there is no advantage for the expert of incantations (Ecclesiastes 10:11)?—at some future time all the animals will assemble and come to the serpent and say: The lion attacks and devours; the wolf tears and consumes; but what profit do you have? And he will answer: What benefit has he who uses his tongue? Resh Laqish said further: Whoever speaks with an evil tongue, his guilt reaches the heavens, as is said: They put their mouth up to the heavens, and their tongue goes over the earth (Psalms 73:9).
Rav Ḥisda said in the name of Mar ‘Uqba: One who speaks with an evil tongue deserves to be stoned with stones. It is written here: Him אַצְמִית (atsmit), shall I destroy (Psalms 101:5), and it is written there: צָמְתוּ (Tsametu) They have cut off, my life in the dungeon, and cast stones upon me (Lamentations 3:53). Rav Ḥisda said further in the name of Mar ‘Uqba: Of him who speaks with an evil tongue, the blessed Holy One says: He and I cannot live together in the world, as is said: Who defames in secret his fellow, him shall I destroy. The haughty of eyes and the proud of heart, him shall I not suffer (Psalms 101:5). Do not read: אֹתוֹ (otho), [him] shall I not suffer, but אִתּוֹ (itto) [with him] can I not suffer. Some refer this to the arrogant.
Rav Ḥisda said further in the name of Mar ‘Uqba: One who speaks with an evil tongue, the blessed Holy One says to the prince of Hell: I will be against him from above, you be against him from below, and we will condemn him, as is said: A warrior’s honed arrows with broom-wood coals (ibid. 120:4). Arrows means nothing else but the evil tongue, as is said: Their tongue is a sharpened arrow; it speaks deceit: [one speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in his heart he lies in wait] (Jeremiah 9:7); and warrior means only the blessed Holy One, as is said: YHWH shall go forth as a mighty man (Isaiah 42:13); and broom-wood coals is Hell. Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina said: What is the remedy for those who speak with an evil tongue? If he be a disciple of the wise, let him engage in Torah, as is said: Healing speech is a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4), and לָשׁוֹן (lashon), speech, here means לָשׁוֹן הָרַע (lashon ha-ra), the evil tongue, as is said: Their tongue is a sharpened חֵץ (ḥets), arrow (Jeremiah 9:7), and עֵץ (ets), tree, means only Torah, as is said: עֵץ חַיִּים (ets ḥayyim), a tree of life, is she to those who grasp her, [and those who hold her are deemed happy—מְאֻשָּׁר (me’ushar), happy, is numerically equivalent to יִשְׂרָאֵל (yisra’el), Israel (Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, Ḥayyei ha-Olam ha-Ba, 6b)] (Proverbs 3:18)—but if he be an ignorant person, let him become humble, as is said: But perverse speech breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:4). Rabbi Aḥa son of Rabbi Ḥanina said: If he has slandered already, there is no remedy for him, for King David, in his holy spirit, has cut him off already, as is said: YHWH will cut off all smooth-talking lips, the tongue that speaks of big things (Psalms 12:4). Nevertheless, what shall be his remedy so that he may not come to [use] an evil tongue? If he be a disciple of the wise, let him engage in Torah, and if he be an ignorant person, let him humble himself, as is said: But perverse speech breaks the spirit.
The academy of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: Whoever speaks with an evil tongue increases his guilt even up to [the degree of] the three [cardinal] transgressions: idolatry, incest [including adultery], and the shedding of blood. It is said here: the tongue that speaks of גְּדֹלוֹת (gidolot), big things (Psalms 12:4), and it is written of idolatry: This people has committed a גְדֹלָה (gedolah), great, offense [they have made themselves gods of gold] (Exodus 32:31). Of incest is written: How could I do this great evil? (Genesis 39:9). And of the shedding of blood it is written: My punishment is too great to bear (ibid. 4:13). Perhaps גְּדֹלוֹת (gidolot), big things, refers to two [transgression of the three]? Which of them would you exclude?
In the West [i.e., the Land of Israel] they say: Talk about third [persons] kills three: him who tells [the slander], him who accepts it, and him about whom it is told. Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina said: What is the meaning of: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21)? Has the tongue ‘a hand’? It tells you that just as the hand can kill, so can the tongue. One might say that just as the hand can kill only one near it, thus also the tongue can kill only one near it, therefore it says: Their tongue is a sharpened arrow (Jeremiah 19:7). Then one might assume that just as an arrow kills only within forty or fifty cubits, thus also the tongue kills only up to forty or fifty cubits, therefore it says: They put their mouth up to the heavens, and their tongue goes over the earth (Psalms 73:9). But since it is written already: They put their mouth up to the heavens, why was it necessary to say also: Their tongue is a sharpened arrow (Jeremiah 19:7)?—this is what we are informed: That [the tongue] kills as an arrow. But once it is written: Their tongue is a sharpened arrow, why was it necessary to state: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21)?—it is in accord with Rava; for Rava said: He who wants to live [can find life] through the tongue [by murmuring Torah (Rashi)]; he who wants to die [can find death] through the tongue. What constitutes an evil tongue?—Rabbah said: For example [to say] there is fire in the house of So-and-so. Abayye said: What did he do? He just gave information?—rather, when he utters that in slanderous fashion: ‘Where else should there be fire if not in the house of So-and-so? [It implies] there is always meat and fish [available].’ Rabbah said: Whatsoever is said in the presence of the person concerned is not considered an evil tongue. Abayye said to him: But then all the more so it is impudence and an evil tongue!—he replied: I hold with Rabbi Yose, for Rabbi Yose said: I have never said a word and looked behind my back.
Rabbah son of Rav Ḥuna said: Whatsoever is said before three is not considered an evil tongue. Why? Your friend has a friend, and your friend’s friend has a friend [i.e., making his statement before three he expects their spreading it in his name, as something that will become known]. When Rav Dimi came [from the Land of Israel] he said: What is the meaning of: Who greets [lit., blesses], his neighbor in a loud voice first thing in the morning, it is reckoned to him a curse (Proverbs 27:14). It refers, for example, to the case of one who happened to stay in a house where they laboured much on his behalf, and next morning he goes out into the street and says: May the Compassionate bless So-and-so, who laboured so much on my behalf. Whereupon people will hear it and come and plunder him.
Rav Dimi, brother of Rav Safra, learnt: Let no man ever talk in praise of his fellow, for through [talking in] his praise he will come to disparage him [i.e., he will say: ‘He is a mensch with the exception of this or that bad habit’]. Some there are who say: Rav Dimi, brother of Rav Safra, was ill. Rav Safra entered to inquire about his state of health. He said, May it come [home] to me that I have kept whatever the Rabbis have enjoined. He said to him: Have you also kept [their command]: Let no man ever talk in praise of his fellow, for through talking in his praise he will come to disparage him? He answered: I have not heard it, for had I heard it, would have kept it” (BT Arakhin 15b).
Place, O YHWH, a watch on my mouth, a guard at the door of my lips (Psalms 141:3).
“Rabbi Ḥiyya opened with the following verse: You shall not curse the deaf… (Leviticus 19:14)—according to its literal meaning, but from this entire portion we learn other matters, and all are interdependent. Come and see: Whoever curses his fellow in his presence, humiliating him, is as though he spills blood, as we have established [see BT Bava Metsi’a 58b]. This verse, however, refers to when one’s fellow is not with him and he curses him—that word ascends. ‘There is not a single word issuing from one’s mouth that lacks a voice. This voice ascends and is joined by many quaestors, until it rises and arouses the place of the Great Abyss, as has been established. How many are roused against this person!
Woe to one from whose mouth issues an evil word, as has been established. Before the blind you shall not put a stumbling block (ibid.)—according to its literal meaning; and they have established it as referring to one who causes another to sin [see BT Pesaḥim 22b], and also to one who strikes his grown son [see BT Mo’ed Qatan 17a]. Before the blind you shall not put a stumbling block—referring to one who has not attained the qualification to render legal decisions and yet does so, as we have learned [see BT Sotah 22a, cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 5:4], for it is written for many the victims she has felled… (Proverbs 7:26). This one transgresses and before the blind you shall not put a stumbling block, for he causes his fellow to stumble in the world that is coming [cf. BT Gittin 43a: ‘This stumbling block is in your hands (Isaiah 3:6). One does not understand words of Torah unless one has stumbled over them’]” (Zohar 3:84b–85b).
Whoever the man desiring life, who loves long days to see good, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit (Psalms 34:13–14, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 19b).
“Do not read You are עַמִּי (ammi), My people (Jeremiah 30:3), but rather You are עִמִּי (immi), with Me, becoming My partner! Just as I made heaven and earth by speaking, as is said: By the word of YHWH, the heavens were made (Psalms 33:6), so do you. Happy are those engaged in Torah!” (Zohar 1:5a).