The Kohen Gadol wore a meil, a robe that was adorned with golden bells, which rang with a musical tinkle whenever he walked. The Gemara in Erchin discusses how each of the Kohen Gadol’s vestments atoned for a particular sin; the meil atoned for the sin of lashon harah. As Chazal say, the meil, which made a loud kol (sound) should atone for lashon harah, which makes a loud kol. Additionally, the bells were made from pure gold and the word zahav (gold) has threee letters in Hebrew, which hints at the three people who are literally destroyed by evil slander: the speaker, the listener, and the one it is about.
The Ben Ish Chai, Chacham Yosef Chayim of Baghdad zt”l, tells an amazing story in relation to this concept. There was once a man who had three daughters. Unfortunately, he never saw joy and nachas from them, as no one wished to marry them. One daughter was a thief, who couldn’t control her impulse to snatch items that didn’t belong to her. The second was a lazy oaf, who sat around all day and couldn’t be bothered to even dip her finger in cold water. The third girl was worst of all, as she spoke evil and slander to anyone she was with - she was the definition of a baalas lashon harah.
One day a man came to him and said, “Look here, I have three sons and you have three daughters. Why don’t we simply match them up and this way you’ll see nachas from your daughters and I will finally have the same from my aging sons.”
Well, the man was persistent - and why not? The two fathers concluded the shidduchim and one after another, the three couples were married. But the boys’ father did not leave it at that. He was a wealthy man, and to his first daughter-in-law, the thief, he gave her keys to one of his vaults and let her have whatever she wanted. Soon, she realized she had no more reason to steal and she was cured. For the second daughter-in-law, he provided maids and servants to wait on her every beck and call. She needn’t lift a finger all day and although she remained lazy, there was no issue with her attitude.
The third daughter-in-law was much trickier. Her foul mouth never let up and she always had something nasty to say. For this, her father-in-law came up with a solution. Each and every day, first thing in the morning, he would visit her and inquire about her needs. She would give him a list of her complaints and he would fix each one. Every day, he would come by and take care of her problems until she really had no more reason to complain about anything,
But rather than make her a better person, it made her melancholy. She was so used to complaining about everyone and everything that she was not happy with her current status. She found reasons to complain that most people couldn’t even fathom and she continued to slander anyone with whom she came into contact with. As successful as the father-in-law’s experiments went with his first two daughters-in-law, it went totally and completely awry with his third.
Things finally came to a head when one morning, her father came to visit and see how married life was treating her. “Oh, it’s terrible,” complained his daughter. “Look what you did to me! Each and every day, my father-in-law comes here and asks me incessant and bothersome questions. You married me off to two men - my husband and his father!”
The man was shocked! He had no idea that his mechutan was stalking his daughter! He became incensed and decided to see for himself. He hid in a back room and waited. A short time later, the good-hearted father-in-law came in for his morning visit and began asking her what was bothering her and what he could do to help. Suddenly, she began screaming, “Get away from me! Don’t come one step closer!” On cue, her enraged father came charging out of his hiding place, grabbed a large kitchen knife and plunged it into the chest of his mechutan, killing him on the spot. He didn’t know that another of the man’s sons was waiting outside and when he heard the commotion, he came running in to find his father lying dead in a pool of blood. Without thinking, he grabbed the knife and thrust it into the heart of the girl’s father, who collapsed on the floor and died covered in blood. At that moment, the husband walked in to find this devastating scene and after determining it was his wife’s fault, he took the same knife and stabbed her in a blind fit of rage!
This, says the Ben Ish Chai, is what Chazal mean when they say that lashon harah can kill three people in one shot!