In the twelfth century, a Jewish scholar and Torah expert named Moses ben Maimon developed a philosophy of giving ranking the lowest form of giving to the highest form. Like rungs on a ladder, Maimonides, describes eight levels of charity as progressions that are accomplished through spiritual maturity. Jewish thinking viewed charitable giving as an act of righteousness, especially in caring for those who were poor.
The first level, or the lowest one, is where the giver gives reluctantly or begrudgingly. This may include embarrassing or shaming the recipient.
Level two is giving cheerfully, but not to the degree that is needed. Here, giving is measured and insufficient.
At level three, the person gives cheerfully and adequately, but only when he or she is asked. In level four, the person gives without being asked or before being solicited.
Level five occurs when the recipient knows the donor, but the donor does not know the recipient. Here we are beginning to see anonymity come into play. The next level, six, flips the paradigm. The donor knows the recipient but the recipient doesn’t know the donor.
The seventh level occurs when neither the giver and the recipient know of each other’s identity. Number 8 then, is the highest level, which is the donor empowers the recipient to become self sufficient. This could be done through a major gift, an interest free loan, time offered in mentoring, or any number of ways that enable the recipient to become self reliant and in turn, become of service to someone else.
Let me make a few observations about Maimonides’ list. First, since making a gift is a part of each level of charity, he’s really describing the way a person makes a gift. It’s true that the gift may indeed increase in size over the progression, but the main growth comes in the form of humility and anonymity. Second, while the gifts offered are helpful to the recipient, the ultimate goal is for the person to become self sustaining. The easiest thing one can do is write a check, and the most difficult thing one can do is give their time. Finally, the eight steps provide a tangible way to measure our own giving attitudes. Aspiring to become a better giver is not just having the desire to give more, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s aspiring to reproduce yourself as a person of generosity. For when the recipient is self reliant, they too will become persons who give.