What do the twelve steps of AA mean?

The twelve steps of AA are easy to understand. Rabbi Taub breaks them down in six words, and answers the question, “What do the twelve steps of AA mean?” here.

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The Program in Six Words

Of course, if we are really looking to sum up the Steps, we shouldn’t fail to mention the “Twelve Steps in Six Words” formula that is often attributed to AA cofounder Dr. Bob Smith :

Trust God.
Clean House.
Help Others.

Corresponding to the Steps as they are numbered, it looks something like this:

Two-Word Action Step(s)

Trust God. 1–3
Clean House. 4–11
Help Others. 12

In Jewish tradition, trust in God is called bittachon, which literally means “confidence” or “security.” It means that one trusts in God to the extent that one feels certain that everything will be taken care of in the best possible way.

Housecleaning is known as cheshbon ha-nefesh—literally, “spiritual stocktaking.” This includes the process of honestly appraising one’s character and becoming willing to rectify one’s faults.

Helping others is the concept of tzedakah—often mistranslated as “charity” but really meaning “justice.” Acting charitably means doing something you really don’t have to do, whereas justice means fulfilling a duty. Fulfilling commandments such as “You shall surely open your hand to your brother” (Deuteronomy 15:11) or “Do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood” (Leviticus 19:16) is not simply a nice thing to do. It’s an obligation.

These three ideas are the program in a nutshell. In Part III of the God of Our Understanding Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction, we will take a closer look at the Steps with a specific eye toward gleaning any information that may indicate more about the underlying theological beliefs of the program.

About the author
Rabbi Shais Taub is one of today's most respected young scholars of Jewish spirituality and practice. National Public Radio called him "an expert in Jewish mysticism and the Twelve Steps." He is the author of God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction.
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