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Maimonides, Moral IQ, and the Eight Levels of Giving

By body brilliance, body mind spirit, Cosmic Care, Moral Intelligence, Spiritual Intelligence 11 Comments


by Alan Davidson

I was almost late to teach my 8 AM yoga class and impatiently noted the long line of cars at the red-light. And then I saw her, sitting small as the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts loomed a few blocks behind her. This intersection attracts panhandlers; usually the homeless people who live under the nearby bridges weaving into downtown.


I didn’t know her name. I often passed her on my way to the studio where I teach. Sometimes she held a sign asking for help. Other days she simply held out her palm, daring to look into the waiting cars for some sign of kindness. The line of cars crept along as the light cycled again through the short green light.

As I rolled closer, the panhandler sat motionless as the cars ahead of me seemed to ignore her. I understood their ignoring. I used to avoid panhandlers, these social outcasts, even crossing the street if I had to. I hated to be asked for money, hated to say, “No.”


Now I shifted my breathing ritual: I focused my attention to my center, the core of energy in front of my spinal column. I then deeply asked myself, “Do I want to give this woman anything today?” And I listened for the answer to come from deep within me. Today I heard, “Five dollars.” Without questioning I reached for the five dollar bill in my ashtray. Some days I hear to give her fifty cents, or a piece of fruit I have with me. Some days I hear clearly, “No:” and I don’t give anything. I’ve come to trust whatever that deeply given answer is.


Rolling down my window as I stopped beside her, conscious of slowing traffic as I did, I offered her the crisply folded bill. She peered up, eyes sharp, her face swollen. I thought she’d been beaten. She stood to take my gift, and told me, “I was in a car wreck.” Our eyes met and I said, “Thank you for asking.”


Lifting my foot off the brake I rolled forward. She started to say something else, but as I pulled away she said, “I’ll tell you tomorrow.” As I drove on I felt it, that sense of delicious and transcendent calm pouring through me. I realized there’s something about asking what’s true for me in a present moment, listening through my body for the answer, and sharing my truth kindly with the world. It unlocks a tangible sense of my sacred self into my everyday world.


Moral IQ includes our Passions, Strengths, Values, and the Vision we hold for our world. The Actions we take in service of that personal vision is the real measure of our Moral IQ. Rambam, the 12th century Jewish scholar, offers some sound advice on charity and some juicy morsels to chew on to better understand why we give.

What is Rambam’s Ladder? Rambam’s Ladder, or the Ladder of Charity, is an eight-step program for giving, written in the 12th century by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, a k a Rambam, better known as Maimonides, the physician-philosopher-scholar. He has an unapologetically utopian view of charity.

”Giving may begin as a way to make order out of chaos, and turn out to be a transformation.” Maimonides was concerned with the most ”essential giving relationship, between the haves and have-nots” and that he was looking for ”something larger than transference of wealth.” He was looking for ”the achievement of a just world.”

No idea was more important to Maimonides in his ”obsessive pursuit of righteousness” than considering how to give with ”compassion and common sense.” His eight-step program has rungs of descending order, from Responsibility, meaning the gift of self-reliance (proverbially teaching a man to fish), down to Reluctance, which means giving grudgingly, whether giving to a panhandler or doling out corporate gifts that may appear large but are actually self-interested drops in the bucket.

Government giving is in the reluctant column. Among the 22 richest nations giving overseas aid, the United States is ”the smallest contributor by percentage, although largest in dollar amount.” America ”ties charitable giving to military and economic objectives, and complains when its philanthropy does not achieve the desired results.”

Ladders, or steps, to heaven or perfection are a religious literary tradition, beginning with Jacob’s ladder in Genesis. In utopian hands ladders to heaven become ladders to heaven on earth: a better world.

”Rambam’s Ladder” is small in size but very humbling. It asks readers to judge themselves in the light of altruism. Experts agree that ”most people are overly optimistic about themselves,” With conscientious effort, after reading ”Rambam’s Ladder,” I’ve already moved from Reluctance, giving begrudgingly, to Proportion, giving less to the poor than is proper, but doing so cheerfully.


Rambam’s Ladder of Charity


“Step by step, rung by rung, all of us can improve ourselves-and the world,” writes Julie Salamon in Rambam’s Ladder–A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give. Here is her interpretation of Maimonides’ “Eight Degrees of Alms Giving:”

1)RELUCTANCE– At the bottom of the ladder is to give begrudgingly.

2)PROPORTION–To give less to the poor than is proper, but to do so cheerfully.

3)SOLICITATION–To hand money to the poor after being asked.

4)SHAME–To hand money to the poor before being asked, but risk making the recipient feel shame.

5)BOUNDARIES–To give to someone you don’t know, but allow your name to be known.

6)CORRUPTION–To give to someone you know, but who doesn’t know from

whom he is receiving help

7)ANONYMITY–To give to someone you don’t know, and to do so anonymously.

8)RESPONSIBILITY–At the top of the ladder is the gift of self-reliance. To hand someone a gift or a loan, or to enter into a partnership with him, or to find work for him, so that he will never have to beg again.

If you enjoyed my article, please leave me a comment below! Thank you for reading…and giving.

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Alan Davidson is the founder of ThroughYourBody.com and the author Body Brilliance: Mastering Your Five Vital Intelligences, the #1 bestselling Health & Welness book and winner of two National Book-of-the-Year awards.

Alan is also the author of the Free report “Body Breakthroughs for Life Breakthroughs: How to Peak Your Physical, Emotional, Mental, Moral, and Spiritual IQs for a Sensational Life” available at www.throughyourbody.com

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