If our words were branded across our faces, painted on our clothes, and written on our walls, what would we look like? Speech has the power to build or to break, and we are gifted with the power to control our lips and tongues, deciding which sounds and syllables they articulate. In Parshat Tazria-Metzorah, we are introduced to the idea of tzaarat, a leprosy-like disease inflicted upon those who spoke lashon harah (negative speech) (Masechet Arakhin 16a).
The parsha begins by outlining a process, saying, “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling, a rash, or a discoloration, and it develops into a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons, the priests” (Vayikra 13:2).
Knowing that tzaarat results from lashon harah, we see its grotesque nature to be indicative of the power of speech.
On the topic of speech, Rav Kook writes, “When one’s soul is elevated, one begins to feel the incredible power of speech. Such a person truly understands the significance of every spoken word, of every prayer and blessing, of every teaching and conversation. This person perceived the great importance of all forms of speech and senses how the development of the world and all of its changes are a result of speech” (Shmoneh Kevatzim 2:246).Here, Rav Kook beautifully describes the spiritual potential our words can have. Conversely, this potential for greatness can also be utilized for destruction.
In Masechet Arukhin, the gemarah says that there are three victims of lashon harah: the one spoken about, the one listening, and the one speaking (15b). At first glance, such a claim seems quite perplexing; slander or gossip about another person can understandably hurt them, but why would the speaker or listener be equally impacted?
Once we understand the interconnected relationship every single person shares, the magnitude of this idea becomes quite clear.
Every individual is divinely connected to Hashem through an unbreakable bond. In this sense, Hashem is the Source of our selves, the Soul of our souls. We are all individual souls, but we are connected to each other through His complete Oneness; this can be compared to the branches of a tree, whereby each branch is an individual while also an expression of the whole tree.
That being said, when we choose to slander, spread rumors about, or gossip about another person, we risk inflicting irreparable pain on every involved. The subject suffers from what was said, the listener’s perception of the subject becomes tainted, and the speaker is responsible for engendering that hurt.
On a deeper level, when we weaponize words against others, we act in defiance of the idea that we are connected to Hashem and thereby deny that we are connected to one another, including the one we chose to defame.
The consequence of tzaarat teaches us that lashon harah damaging, disgusting, and destructive. Every time we open our mouths, we can elevate the spirit of everyone around us and bring ourselves closer to Hashem or we can invite more suffering and breed more victims into the world. Speech has infinite power, and if we actualize that, we will even surprise ourselves.
 As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p.91