There is a story that happened in a Jewish community. News began to circulate that the daughter of the butcher (shochet) had gone off the derech (way) and into very immoral behavior.
Wherever the shochet went people began to look at him doubtfully and suspect all that he did because of what had happened to him and that someone like his daughter could be one of his offspring. With a heavy heart he went to the rabbi of the community. Because of the rumors people did not want to eat meat from the animals that he slaughtered, and he was losing his entire livelihood. He stood in front of the rabbi, crying and broken .
He claimed that what people were saying about his daughter was absolutely not true. The proof, he said, is... he does not have any daughters! His wife had given birth only to sons.
We will not tire the reader with a long story. Suffice it to say that no matter what the rabbi tried to do for him, it was to no avail. The rumor which had circulated in the city that the daughter of the shochet had become spoiled would not stop, and most people stopped to eat his meat.
speech has the power to decide an uncertain thing, whether positively or negatively. It fixes the thing. According to what is said about it, that becomes its reality. In this week's parsha we can further see the destructive force which is hidden in the power of speech.
When evil words are spoken about someone, it is almost impossible to prevent ourselves from believing in them. Moreover, even if it is proven in public that what was spoken was false, something of the stain remains attached to the person who was the victim of the evil speech.
In these days it is also common to see the power of defamation of character at work in the public, communications media. Unproven and false statements are trumpeted in all the media for days. Then a quick and hardly noticeable apology is made. Nevertheless, the destruction caused by the defamation has already been achieved. All their apologies, and even court decisions against the defamers do not help. This proves that defamation is in the category of "an iniquity that cannot be repaired" (Eccl.1:15).
Yehoshua and Calev said, "...The Land through which we passed to spy it is a very, very good land" (Numbers 14:7). However, from the moment that the spies spoke evil about the Land the cries of Yehoshua and Calev could not help. The defamation was already fixed in the hearts of Israel. Even if it could have been erased, some part of it would remain. It could not be wholly rectified.
Therefore, when Israel did regret their acceptance of the spies' defamatory words, and they said, "...We are here, and we will go up to the place that G-d said, because we have sinned" (ibid. 40), it was to no avail. Their relationship to the Land had become blemished beyond repair.
It may be compared to the relationship between the soul and the body. There must be a wondrous accord between them. However, if the unity and harmony between them breaks, and someone tries to force the soul into a body that is not compatible to her, then it is doomed to failure. That is why Moshe said to them, "Why are you transgressing the word of G-d, and it will not succeed; do not ascend because G-d is not in your midst, and you will not be routed before your enemies" (ibid. 41). They could not entirely erase the impression once they had accepted the calumny that the spies spoke about Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, they were no longer entirely compatible to the Land.
Now it is obvious why the Torah is so strict concerning the prohibition of lashon hara and defamation in a way which is incomparable in any of the other prohibitions between man and man. If a person causes damage to another person, then he can pay compensation and thereby rectify the wrong that he has done. However, how much effort needs to be invested in order to change a negative image which was caused by rumor, if it can be successfully changed at all.
In several places the Torah compares the tongue to an arrow. "G-d, save my life from lying lips and a deceitful tongue.... Sharp arrows of the mighty..." (Psalms 120:2-4). "Like an arrow drawn is their tongue speaking deceitfulness..." (Jeremiah 9:7). Once the arrow is shot from the bow, no one can control it, and no one can bring it back, as we have explained. Therefore, a person must be very, very careful with his tongue. This is so important, and the power of speech is so potentially destructive, that Chazal have said that the art of living in this world is for a person to make himself like a mute.

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