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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  1. I’ve never see this before but I like it. I’ve usually said.
    I’m powerless
    I believe in God
    Don’t be a jerk
    If you are, apologize.

    Thanks for this!

  2. It’s refreshing and reassuring to see things broken down to this level of six words and I am very familiar with Dr Bob’s summary, but I also like Todd’s take on things.

    I’ve never read anything by Rabbi Shais Taub before, so thanks for the opportunity.

  3. This makes sense to me, a lot of sense, but I’ve been sober for a while now.

    I am not trying to start an argument, but I have a slightly different set of six words which I think end up in the same place.

    In the beginning I got real twitchy when anyone tried to quote their God to me. (Still do, but not so much)

    Clean house is certainly true, but I am convinced that a whips and chains notion of steps 4-9 has kept some folks from trying it.

    Six words is a real challenge but maybe another set of six should be offered the timid newcomer standing outside the door looking in.

    Must Change,
    Heal Yourself,
    Find Joy

    Must Change – involves embracing spirituality and a higher power of some sort. And most definitely making sure you are convinced it is not you – or your drug.

    Healing yourself includes cleaning your mess but there is more for me, I need to find another way to live without the anger, drama, and gnashing of teeth.

    Finding Joy – for me has helping others at its core.as is living a more spiritually centered life.

    More will be revealed.

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?