“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 he who brings up an evil report against his neighbor!”
According to Jewish tradition, many of the unfortunate events that befell the Jewish people were a result of the sin of the spies who scouted the Promised Land and then reported to the people that it was a dangerous place. They distorted the truth because they were afraid of change, and slandered the Land of Israel.
Slander, which is one of the most devastating sins that a person can commit, is known as lashon harah, the evil tongue. Few other sins are referred to by such euphemisms, so what is the symbolic significance of the tongue? “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Joseph ben Zimra… “The Holy One, blessed be He, 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” (Arachin 15b).
Not only is the tongue one of the most visible organs of speech, it is, as any speech therapist will tell you, one of the easiest muscles to retrain. A person who speaks ill of others can, with relative ease, reverse course and learn to refrain from lashon harah. In fact, in the same section of the Talmud, Rabbi Hama ben Hanina is quoted as saying: “What is the remedy for slanderers? If he be a scholar, let him engage in the Torah…If he be an ignorant person, let him become humble” (ibid)