How do we become better people? Through helping others. Nearly a thousand years ago the Jewish philosopher and physician Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known to the Greeks as Maimonides and to Hebrew scholars as Rambam, gave much thought to righteousness. Out of his philosophical exploration came what is known as the Ladder of Charity, an elegantly simple half-page of wisdom spelling out the eight steps of giving. Written with compassion and common sense, the rules are as vital today as they were in the 12th century.
Julie Salamon, the bestselling author and New York Times culture writer, makes the 1, 000-year-old wisdom come alive in Rambam's Ladder, a short, inspirational book that motivates every reader to get a toehold on the ladder and start climbing, from the bottom rung—to give begrudgingly, as we often will to a panhandler—to the top, where the gift is such that the receiver becomes self-reliant. In eight chapters, one for each rung, the book helps us navigate the world of giving. How much to give? How do we know if our gifts are being used wisely? Is it better to give anonymously? If giving overly benefits the giver, is it somehow corrupt? And it reminds us of the deep vein of charity and goodness that runs through America.
With interviews of foundation presidents and small-business owners, multi-millionaires and the homeless who poured out of a Bowery shelter on 9/11 to help straggling survivors, Rambam's Ladder is an uplifting book with a timeless message: give better, and live better.