“Poor-mouthing” means talking about yourself as if you were poor, or poorer than you are, in order to engage other people’s sympathy. I won’t hide from you that our family continuously and increasingly faces issues of insolvency — yet the daily reading (fifth day of the week) from the week’s Torah portion, Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), reminds me of the cosmic significance of not grousing about your own economic predicament.
The Jews were in the wilderness, passing through the land of the children of Esau. Though the people living in that land were relatives of the Israelites, the Jews were not to plead poverty:
You shall purchase food from them for money so that you may eat; also water shall you buy from them for money so that you may drink. For the Lord, your God, has blessed you in all your handiwork; He knew your way in this great wilderness; this forty-year [period] the Lord, your God, was with you, you did not lack a thing.
Rashi comments: “Therefore, do not reject His goodness [i.e., do not be ungrateful toward Him], by appearing as if you are poor. Rather, present yourself as wealthy” (on Deuteronomy 2:7).
Quite a thing for a rabbinic sage to counsel, isn’t it? “Present yourself as wealthy.” The truth is that God does provide us with our needs. Jews say this every day in the morning blessings: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has provided me with all I need.” However, the temptation for some of us, including me, is to deny this. It’s a temptation that has to be fought, at the risk of denying God’s providence itself.