A remarkable man of the Middle Ages by the name of Moses ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides, was a Jewish philosopher-physician-astronomer-rabbi who greatly influenced the thinking and doctrine of not only his own religion but of Christian and Islamic thinking as well. He set forth what he called “The Golden Ladder of Charity” to guide his followers in the charitable practice of giving gifts.
The Golden Ladder of Charity is still relevant today. Maimonides invites us to ponder on the kind of gifts that we give and receive, and of the motivation behind these gifts.
The Golden Ladder of Charity
The first and lowest degree is to give – but with reluctance or regret. This is the gift of the hand but not of the heart.
The second is to give cheerfully, but not proportionately to the distress of the suffering.
The third is to give cheerfully, and proportionately, but not until we are solicited.
The fourth is to give cheerfully, proportionately, and even unsolicited; but to put it in the poor man’s hand, thereby exciting in him the painful emotion of shame.
The fifth is to give charity in such a way that the distressed may receive the bounty and know their benefactor, without their being known to him. Such was the conduct of our ancestors, who used to tie up money in the hind-corners of their cloaks, so that the poor might take it unperceived.
The sixth, which rises still higher, is to know the objects of our bounty, but remain unknown to them. Such was the conduct of those of our ancestors who used to convey their charitable gifts into people’s dwellings, taking care that their own persons should remain unknown.
The seventh is still more meritorious, namely, to bestow charity in such a way that the benefactor may not know the relieved persons (the recipients of the gift), nor they the name of their benefactor.
The eighth and most meritorious of all is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty; namely, to assist the reduced brother either by a considerable gift, or a loan of money, or by teaching him a trade, or by putting him in the way of business, so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity. This is the highest step and the summit of charity’s Golden Ladder.
Gracious giving requires no special talent, nor large sums of money. It is compounded of the heart and head acting together toward the perfect expression of the spirit. It is love sharpened with imagination. The best gift is always a portion on oneself. Source: The Guideposts Christmas Treasury, Spiritual Workshop on Gifts, p18-20 (Guideposts Assoc. Inc., Carmel, NY, c1972)
2 Cor. 8:1-15;
2 Cor. 9:7-8;
I Cor. 13:3;
Reflection and Discussion
1. How many of the eight kinds of giving have you been able to do this year? For each step in Maimonides’ ladder try to list down one or more personal gifts you have given in the past year.
2. What is the best gift you have ever received? Why did/do you treasure it?
3. What do you consider to be the best gift you ever gave someone? Why?
4. Action: Make out a special list solely of gifts of self. It could include things you make, cook or grow; also visits to the lonely, gifts of time for babysitting, letters of appreciation. One of the best gifts of all could be the simple asking forgiveness of someone you have wronged. Who to give these gifts of self to? Include people who would least expect but most appreciate a remembrance from you. What people have you lost track of? Who do you most dislike? Use your imagination in creating a list that you think would most please God.