20 For lack of wood a fire goes out, And without a querulous man contention is stilled.
b’-E-fes ay-TZEEM tikh-beh AYSH uv-AYN nir-GAN yish-TOK ma-DON
כ בְּאֶפֶס עֵצִים תִּכְבֶּה־אֵשׁ וּבְאֵין נִרְגָּן יִשְׁתֹּק מָדוֹן׃
26:20 And without a querulous man contention is stilled
Rumors and slander add fuel to the fire of human contention. Just as a fire will burn itself out when it runs out of wood, so too, a disagreement will end naturally if the parties involved are not continually provoked by gossip. The Torah warns against speaking ill about others. The verse in Sefer Vayikra (19:16), “Do not deal basely with your countrymen,” is usually translated as “thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.” Speech is so powerful and potentially dangerous that, according to the Sages (Erchin 15a), the tongue had to be hidden behind two protective barriers, the lips and the teeth, in order to protect it from being used for slander. Indeed, it was the slander of the spies, who spoke evil about the Land of Israel, which delayed entry into the Holy Land and caused the Nation of Israel to wander in the desert for forty years.