Parshat Metzora describes the consequences of negative speech, loshon hara.

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Whoever made that one up is either naive or deaf. While we might tell our children not to be bothered, the reality is that words hurt a great deal more than sticks and stones. The pain caused by sticks and stones is temporary; the pain caused by words can be eternal.

When someone hits you, it is a very crude and superficial expression of contempt for your humanity. What he is saying, in effect, is that you are an object, not a person. There is a sense of violation. Words, however, can express that contempt infinitely more eloquently and thus penetrate much deeper. When you talk badly about another person, it can be much more personal and biting, and cut to the core of his individuality. Ouch.

Beyond this, the Sages say that whoever speaks loshon hara denies God Himself. It is, to be sure, an indefensible action to talk badly about a fellow human being, but to say that one who does so denies God seems a little harsh. Here is an explanation that I once heard from one of my students.

Every human being is made in the image of the God. No one of us is inherently any more or less Godly than anyone else. We are Godly no matter what we do. The question is only whether we will act in a Godly fashion or not. The Jewish concept is that although a person may ‘do’ bad, his or her essence ‘is’ still good. When one recognizes this, one is able to appreciate the goodness, the greatness and almost unlimited potential of those around us.