Climbing the Ladder

Posted on by Rabbi Barbara Symons

I spoke with someone today who shared that she has been in recovery from alcoholism for 40 years. In addition to a decades-long full career as a singer songwriter, during the lock-down of Covid she worked to became a recovery counselor for song writers and artists. Her songs were already meaningful to me and I told her that knowing what she is doing to give back to the community only deepens their meaning. What a thrill and honor it was to speak with her and my star-struck eyes only widened upon learning of her latest chapter. And yes, I even asked if she would sing for me. She did.

While we spoke and while she serenaded me, I thought of Maimonides’ Ladder of Tzedakah since the Shabbat Morning worship community had spoken about it just days before. The Ladder is, from the lowest rung up:

  1. Giving begrudgingly and making the recipient feel disgraced or embarrassed.
  2. Giving cheerfully but giving too little.
  3. Giving cheerfully and adequately but only after being asked.
  4. Giving before being asked.
  5. Giving when you do not know who is the individual benefiting, but the recipient knows your identity.
  6. Giving when you know who is the individual benefiting, but the recipient does not know your identity.
  7. Giving when neither the donor nor the recipient is aware of the other’s identity.
  8. The Highest: Giving money, a loan, your time or whatever else it takes to enable an individual to be self-reliant.

When we aim for the top step: helping another person to become self-sufficient–whether that is through sobriety or literacy or business acumen, we have literally raised another person up. The prayer Gevurot describes God as “lifting the fallen;” when we do the same, we are shining in God’s image.

How can you use our time and invest our passions and talents to climb Maimonides’ Ladder of Tzedakah and escort another person alongside?

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