on today’s daf
(=page) speaks at length about the evils of evil speech and tale-bearing, pointing to the Israelite spies who spoke in a derogatory manner about the land of Israel. Rabbi Elazar ben Perata teaches: Come and see how great the power of an evil tongue is! Whence do we know its power? From the spies: for if it happens thus to those who bring up an evil report against wood and stones, how much more will it happen to him who brings up an evil report against his neighbor!
This theme continues throughout the daf
to the extent that the students of Rabbi Yishma’el
teach that whoever speaks slander increases his sins even up to the degree of the three cardinal sins: idolatry, incest, and bloodshed, citing biblical verses to support their argument.
The Gemara does suggest antidotes to this evil:
Rabbi Hama the son of Rabbi Hanina said: What is the remedy for slanderers? If he be a scholar, let him engage in the Torah, as it is said: The healing for a tongue is the tree of life,and ‘tongue’ here means the evil tongue, as it is said: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’, and ‘tree of life’ means only the Torah, as it is said: She is a tree of life, to them that lay hold upon her. But if he be an ignorant person, let him become humble, as it is said: But perverseness therein is a wound to the spirit.
Rabbi Aha the son of Rabbi Hanina 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 it is said: May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaketh great (i.e., proud) things!Nevertheless, what shall be his remedy so that he may not come to utter evil speech? If he be a scholar, let him engage in the Torah, and if he be an ignorant person, let him humble himself, as it is said: ‘But perverseness therein is a wound to the spirit’.
The commentaries ask how Rabbi Aha can suggest that there is no remedy for someone who has slandered, for surely repentance is possible for every sin! One answer involves the difficulty in correcting the results of slander and in identifying the people who suffered because of slander for the purpose of apologizing to them.