Our Rabbis saw a link between the spiritual sin of lashon hara, slander and gossip, and the physical disease of tzara'at. At the dawn of redemption from Egypt , Moshe was afflicted with this disease for speaking negatively about the Jewish people: "But they will not believe me" (Shemot 4:1), he mistakenly claimed. Nation-building cannot take place when unsubstantiated, not to mention false, statements are made against fellow Jews.
Not understanding the unique greatness of Moshe, Miriam was heard to be "speaking against Moshe because of the women he took. Is it to Moshe exclusively that G-d speaks? Doesn't He also speak to us?" (Bamidbar 12:1-2). She, too, was afflicted with tzara'at.
One who speaks lashon hara drives a wedge between people, causing untold communal damage. Thus, the resulting punishment for speaking negatively, tzara'at, included banishment from the camp of Israel, where one would spend seven days in quarantine reflecting on the harm caused by their speech.
In an ideal world, the spiritual and the physical aspects of creation work in harmony. We elevate our physical beings by performing mitzvot, helping to bring holiness to the physical world. Kedushah is attained primarily in our most physical of actions: our eating patterns and our sexual behaviour. Maimonides codifies these specific laws in his Sefer Kedushah leaving such laws as Shabbat, Yom Kippur and brit milah for other books.
Speech, in many ways, is the link between the spiritual and the physical. Unlike the other physical features of man—eating and procreation, for example—speech is unique to human beings. It is this quality that some explain as the meaning of our being "created in the image of G-d." Lashon hara , our Sages state, is tantamount to murder (Erchin 16b). In addition to the harm we cause our victim and ourselves, we are killing the Divine image within each of us. A close reading of the Biblical text reveals that G-d's anger with Adam for eating from the tree of knowledge stemmed from Adam's speaking lashon hara against his wife, blaming her for his own failing.
We live in a period of hester panim, where G-d's face is hidden. We have no prophets andnot enough inspirational leaders. Thus, we no longer see physical manifestations of our spiritual behaviour. People talk lashon hara seemingly without consequence, and surely without getting tzara'at. Similarly, it is hard to see the connection between the amount of rainfall in Israel and our observance of mitzvot (maybe not so hard if you look closely). Punishment of evildoers is often slow to come—if it comes at all in this world. But lashon hara is just as evil and dangerous as it was in Biblical times, only now those who refrain are doing so despite the knowledge that they can escape punishment in this world. Judaism has never subscribed to the notion that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me". And the negative effects of lashon hara are compounded when a whole group is targeted.
The State of Israel, and by extension Jews throughout the world, are often targeted for delegitimization. Much of this battle is being fought in the media. Unfortunately, the distortions, slander, and outright lies that are parroted in the media take their toll on us, psychologically and emotionally. They also take their toll physically. The murder of innocent Jews is a direct result of incitement and lies directed against us.
Furthermore, it is the failure of the free world to speak up, to determine the truth and to disseminate it, which allows the killings to continue. Tolerating lies leads them to be acted upon. Each one of us must speak up often and loud to our friends, our co-workers our media, and our politicians.
As we prepare to recite Hallel on Pesach, we pray that it should serve as the harbinger of the ultimate song that we will be privileged to sing to herald the arrival of Mashiach and world peace.