The Gemara on today’s daf 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 malicious speech is! From where do we derive this? From the spies: And if one who defames the wood and rocks received such a severe punishment, how much more will it be with one who defames another person!”
This theme continues throughout the daf to the extent that the students of Rabbi Yishmael teach that whoever speaks slander increases his sins even up to the degree of the three cardinal sins: idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed, citing biblical verses to support their argument.
The Gemara does suggest antidotes to this evil:
Rabbi Ḥama the son of Rabbi Ḥanina said: What is the remedy for slanderers? If he be a scholar, let him engage in the Torah, as it is said: “A soothing tongue is the tree of life.” ‘Tongue’ here means malicious speech, as it is said: “Their tongue is a sharpened arrow,” and ‘tree of life’ means only the Torah, as it is said: “It is a tree of life to them that lay hold of it.” And if he is an ignoramus, let him become humble, as it is said: “Its perverseness is a broken spirit.”
Rabbi Aḥa the 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 it is said: “May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks 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: “Its perverseness is a broken spirit.”
The commentaries ask how Rabbi Aḥa 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.