12 April 2018
A statue of the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides stands in a courtyard in Córdoba, Spain, the city where he was born. (photo: Jerzy Kociatkiewicz/Wikimedia Commons)
Sometimes things come into my mind and I have no idea what triggered them. Today is Yom HaShoah, the day remembering the murder of six million Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. For some reason, this day reminded me of the famous “Ladder of Maimonides” or “Ladder of Justice/Righteousness.” Maimonides (1135-1204) was born 800 years before the Holocaust, and so I do not know how or why my brain would have made that connection.
Nevertheless, Maimonides is an example of many things. Living in Moorish Spain, he was part of an extraordinarily open and tolerant society. In what is called convivencia, literally “living together,” Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in mutual respect. Each faith tradition made its unique contribution to the overall good of society.
Moses ben Maymun (in Arabic Musa bin Maymûn, and Greek Maimonides) was born in Córdoba, one of the most important cities in the world in his time. Maimonides is affectionately known as Rambam (from Rabbi Moses Ben Maymun) by Jews to this very day. Like many of the great figures in the Middle Ages, he was a man of many skills. He was a physician, a rabbi and a philosopher.
He engaged in the theological and philosophical discussions of his day. His book, “Guide for the Perplexed,” is an attempt to show that religions — in his case, Judaism — were not merely superstition but were built on reason.
However, it was Maimonides’ famous “Ladder of Justice/Righteousness” (sometimes called the “Eight Levels of Charity”) that came into my head this morning. In eight simple steps, he described how humanity climbs from injustice to justice, toward a greater spirit of charity. It is a model for building a more just and compassionate society. In a world of suffering, injustice, displacement and dehumanizing poverty, people of good will are struggling to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings. CNEWA works in many parts of the world — the Middle East, Africa, India — where these issues seem overwhelming and almost insoluble.
Perhaps today, Yom HaShoah, a moment when we reflect on one of the greatest injustices of modern history, is a fitting time to recall this great Jewish philosopher, as he reminds us what comprises justice and righteousness — and challenges us to better reflect that in our world today.
Maimonides’ “Ladder of Righteousness”:
- The person who gives reluctantly and with regret.
- The person who gives graciously, but less than one should.
- The person who gives what one should, but only after being asked.
- The person who gives before being asked.
- The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives, although the recipient knows the identity of the donor.
- The person who gives without making his or her identity known.
- The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives. The recipient does not know from whom he or she receives.
- The person who helps another to become self-supporting by a gift or a loan or by finding employment for the recipient.
Tags: Jewish Holocaust