Ona’as devarim, verbal abuse or hurtful speech — when one uses words to pain another person — is more severe than monetary abuse (ona’ah). Our Sages thus said, “All of the gates in Heaven have been locked except for the gate of [someone who has been hurt by] harmful words” (Baba Metzia 59a). The Holy One Himself exacts intense retribution from the person. Many people are guilty of this because they do not understand the significance of Ona’as devarim. The basic rule is that anyone who hurts his friend with words violates the prohibition of hurtful speech. In order to know what words his friend would find painful, one should think about what he himself finds painful, he will then know what to avoid saying when to talking to others.
Some people hurt their friends in a joking or teasing way in order for the fun of it. But for this, too, he will surely be punished in such a way that his merriment will turn to misery. In light of the seriousness of this matter, one must be extremely cautious about what he says to others.
A person is likely to be sensitive, insulted, and hurt by even a casual conversation, while the one speaking is oblivious to the pain he is causing to his fellow and thinks he is being funny. He might also think that there is nothing wrong with making hurtful comments in this jesting manner because he thinks, “My friend did the same to me.” The result is that he feels no regret in speaking in this manner.
However, one should know that it is not permitted to hurt any person with words, not even someone who hurt him, unless it is admonition motivated by love. But if he gives the admonition in order to get back at the other person, he violates the Torah prohibition of not taking revenge (Vayikra 19:18). Though the hurtful words were said in jest, it is joking with his fellow’s blood. Such “mirth” is also included in leitzanus-mockery, about which the Sages said, “The beginning [of its retribution] is suffering, and the end is total destruction” (Avoda Zara 18b).
Therefore, a person must be cautious with regard to hurtful speech, especially when it comes to one’s wife — since she is quick to tear, she is quick to be hurt (Baba Metzia 59a).
A person should always try to be agreeable to others, and in this way he will be agreeable to God as well.