Medicina de la lengua (Medicine of the Tongue)

Isaac de Moses de Paz


The aforementioned lights are sufficient to flee from gossip and to shut one’s ears to the gossipmonger and to the talebearer because they are enemies to be greatly feared, which are found in a thousand places, where the most valiant spirits have uttered prayers to God to rid themselves of the evil tongue, as the psalmist David did say when asking God: Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, who speak peace with their neighbors, but evil is in their hearts (Psalms 28:3). And this particular petition is not to be wondered at, in view of the fact that the Prophet Jeremiah compares the evil tongue to a very sharp arrow, which is the most damaging among weapons: their [evil] tongue is a sharpened arrow (Jeremiah 9:7). And our divine sages declare, since an arrow is shot from far away (and [from] even beneath the ground and from one place to another) it is certain that it is worse than a cutting sword [which only wounds from up close]. And, as bad as an arrow [is], it is inferred that evil tongues are like injurious arrows, from the reproof which holy scripture warns against, for the one who brings out evil repute—say our sages about the text which says: this is the law of the leper (Leviticus 14:2)—the word is Mezorah [metsora‘]—they say amosib sem rab [ha-motsi’ shem ra‘], that is, the one who brings forth evil repute [see Exodus Rabbah 1:30]. Since leprosy is a contagious and very ugly disease, the effects were to exclude the leper from the general population fleeing from him due to his being unclean. Its remedy was only the divine one, with sacrifice and purity of heart. Having included in one word (namely Mezorah, leprous) [both] gossip and leprosy, I infer, that slander [lit. “evil tongue”] is a pestilential poison for which the evil-sayer has to be excluded from the concourse of good people. I equally infer, that in order for the talebearer to be cured, it is necessary to purify his heart and offer a sacrifice. Confirming it as a grave evil and its punishment leprosy, in the case of Miriam, for a minor word, she suffered from [leprosy] as it says in the text: And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, etc. (Numbers 12).

It is the tongue—an instrument—which differentiates us from the irrational creatures, and allows us the privilege of praising God, just as, in the same way, by it a man can make himself more despicable than the beasts, as it is for the good soul, life, and for the evil soul, death; thus says the wise Solomon in his holy proverbs: Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21). If the person who prays to God considers the perfection necessary, he would never allow gossip to enter his mouth, which is what the sages mean when they say: a man should have two mouths, so that the one which praises God should not [also] articulate anything offensive to Him. With this we infer that the person who wishes to pray well must not make any prejudicial remark because of which the tongue that pronounces it is not fit to praise God. And the heart which governs the tongue is not prepared to appear before the Lord, since the best adornment to enter into the company of the righteous is the observance of the Five Books of the Law and its divine precepts, and the gossipmonger perverts them all, as they say in [Midrash] Rabot, f. 155: “Everyone who gossips, it is counted for him as if he has perverted the Five Books of the Law.” And so, one of the merits for which the Children of Israel left Egypt was that there were no slanderers among them. Our divine sages prove this, showing that the legislator Moses warned the people a year before the Exodus from Egypt that they should borrow from the Egyptians jewels of gold and silver, as it was decreed, that they had to leave with great gain, and no one in Israel revealed the secret to the Egyptians, which could have prevented them from making loans to them had it been revealed that they would not have to restore the loans to them. And since there were no talebearers among them, they attained liberty with riches, God choosing Israel for his people to receive the divine law on Mount Sinai in the presence of six hundred thousand people, and to inherit the Holy Land. So one merits who does not slander, nor who is a revealer of confidences, carrying tales here and there, just as, to the contrary, one who does this deserves many evils, of which the principal (as it is the greatest) one is not to be able to appear before God, and to suffer the pains of hell, as we have said. Now I shall proceed to hint at the remedies so as not to incur this crime, and in the last treatise (with the help of God) I shall describe how to raise up the fallen.

Translated by


Isaac ben Moses de Pas, Medicina de lengua arbol de vidas (Amsterdam: En caza y en la oficina de Yshac Yeuda Leao Templo, 1734), pp. 66–69.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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