Judaism and the 12 Steps

The Old Testament is the book of the Jewish people and their history. The Torah is the first five books of the Bible given directly to Moses by God which define the Jewish laws. This is much like the first 164 pages of the Big Book of A.A. which defines The Problem, The Solution and How it Works. The Nevi’im are the twenty-one books of the Prophets that record the history of the people with the purpose of reminding them of their relationship to God. These are similar to the stories in the Big Book of A.A. which describe the power of addiction in peoples’ lives and their various paths to finding recovery. The major themes of these two books are also parallel. In the Jewish bible God never ceased to be as present for human beings as they were ready to receive His presence. In A A., the power of those in the program never cease to be a resource and a source of hope and assistance for those who seek help.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. These words which I command you on this day shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children. You shall talk about them at home and abroad, night and day. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes and you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and upon your gates.
Deuteronomy :4-9

Through Moses God proposed to Israel a covenant which was described by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. “Think about it. God decided for the first and last time…to reveal himself….You would expect God to give you a lecture on theology at least. Instead…He gave you all kind of commands about human relations: Thou shalt not lie…..Why did he do that? This was the lesson: God can take care of himself. What he had to give man was the dignity of man.” This too is much like the message of the Big Book of AA and the transformative power of the 12 Steps which returns man’s dignity after it has been robbed by the throes of addiction and its degradation.

The way or path of the Jews is best understood in the Ten Commandments which were given to Moses by God on the top of Mt Sinai. They represent the ten steps of Judaism.

The Ten Commandments

I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.

You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.

Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not kill.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and that our lives had become unmanageable

In doing this step you are following in the footsteps of our ancestors. When our people were poised at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian armies in pursuit, they were panicked. The Israelites were afraid to cross. Moses cajoled them, to no avail. Fearful that they had come so far only to perish in the waters, our ancestors were ready to return to Egypt and again become enslaved. This may also be our fear. With this step we stand at the threshold of the Red Sea every day struggling, fighting the urge to return to the slavery of our dependency. One man arose, Nachshon ben Adminadav, a simple man, neither hero or leader, and stepped into the raging waters. Then a miracle occurred. The waters parted, and these former slaves walked on dry land toward freedom.

Text or Verse

Tefillat Ha-Derech.
May it be your will, Adonai, my God, and God of my ancestors, to lead me, to direct my steps, and to support me in peace.
Lead me in life, tranquil and serene, until I arrive at where I am going.
Deliver me from my every enemy, ambush and hurt that I might encounter on the way, and from all afflictions that visit and trouble the world.
Bless the work of my hands.
Let me receive Divine grace and those loving acts of kindness and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of a those I encounter.
Listen to the voice of my appeal, for You are a God who responds to prayerful supplication.
Praised are You, Adonai, who responds to prayer. Amen


Becoming part of a small group – a minyan (prayer quorum) or a chavura (extended family-like group) in community life is a basic human need. It will provide strength

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Jews have always known that belief is essential, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Our tradition tells us, the one power God withholds even from Godself is the power to make us believe. Difficulty in faith is not failure. Look at the story of the golden calf where we turned our backs on God after God brought us out of Egypt. How far is it from creating and idolizing the golden drug or bottle to the original golden calf? Perhaps there is no difference. The sages pointed out that there are many kinds and forms of golden calves in our lives.

Text or Verse

Fortunate is the person who has not followed the plan of the wicked, or participated with sinners, or joined the company of scoffers. Rather, his desire is the teaching of Adonai, and he meditates on that teaching all the time. He is like a tree firmly planted beside abundant waters that yields its fruit in season whose foliage never withers and whatever he does prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3


Rabbi Meir said, “Study with all your heart and with all of your soul to know God’s ways and to watch at the doors of the Divine law. Keep God’s law in your heart and let Divine reverence always be before your eyes. Keep your mouth from sin and purify and sanctify yourself from trespass and iniquity and God will be with you in every place.”
Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 17a

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Some people think faith in God comes easily. For Jews, belief in God is a struggle. We spend our lives trying to figure out the range and shape of that belief, what it means, and how it compels us to act. We start by making a decision to believe. You will have doubts, we all do. Throughout the Jewish calendar year we are given opportunities to start again, to make teshuvah, a turning toward God. Before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we get ready to shed our past and begin our journey toward personal repair. Scripture captures this time when fearfulness can be transformed: “When God began to create…the world was chaotic, without order. And so, God drew near to the chaos and brought light to the world in order to illumine the darkness.” (Genesis 1:1-4). This is the place where we take the 3rd step. Just as the creation of life is a process of growth, so too is the process of recovery.

Text or Verse

Before a person is healed, he must acknowledge his illness.
Before a person finds light, she must know her own darkness.
Before a people is forgiven, it must confess its sins.
We confess our sins and those or our fellows for we are responsible, one for the other.
Heal us, Adonai, and lead us through darkness to the light.
From the Yom Kippur confessional


Each day God gives us the potential to begin again, as if reborn. As a reminder, we are thus prepared to start each day with:
Modeh ani lifanecha, melech chai v’kayam, shehechazarta bi nishmati v’chemda raba emunatecha.
In translation: I stand befoe You, God with humble thanks. You who empower me with every breath that I take, You, who have faith in me, have returned my life to me, and I will be forever grateful.



Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is called a cheshbon banefesh, which is literally an accounting of the soul. Self-examination is an important part of the Jewish tradition. In Avot de Rabbi Natan, it is written: “The eye is shown only what it is capable of seeing and the ear hears only what it is capable of listening to.”

Text or Verse

Rava wrote: “If people see that painful sufferings come to them, let them examine their deeds. “Let us search out our way of life and return to Adonai.” (Lamentations 3:40)
(Psalm 94:12)

If they still find this is not the reason, they may be sure these are sufferings of love. “Adonai loves whomever Adonai corrects.”
(Proverbs 3:12)


We are taught in Tur Orach Chayim, a Jewish legal code prepared by Yaakov ben Asher:
“Pious ones of old used to meditate and concentrate in prayer until they rid themselves of the physical. They nurtured a spiritual strength that bordered on the level of prophecy.”
Choose a favorite line of sacred text and concentrate on it. Repeat it over and over until it sings like a song on your lips.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The Baal Shem Tov, has taught us that, through the power of prayer, even the least among us can communicate with God. Every outpouring of the heart, when spoken in earnest and with devotion is a true prayer. According to the rabbis, one of the effects of transgressions is a hardening of the heart. The heart becomes like a rock, solid and impermeable, feeling nothing. When you begin to admit your wrongs to God, openings develop, like small cracks in a rock. Once our heart begins to open, these cracks begin to widen. Finally, our hearts break open, and the head begins to know what before only the heart felt.

Text or Verse

Rebbe Nachman said that a human being reaches in three directions: inward to self, outward to others and upward to God. The real secret, taught by Nachman, is that the three are one. When we are connected to self we can reach out to others. When we reach out to others we may come to know God.


Yom Kippur is a spiritual exercise which leaves you spent like an exhausting physical exercise. The alphabet of sins can act as a litany: ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibarnu dofi, he-evinu, v’hirshanu, zadnu, chamasnu, tafalnu, sheker, ya-atznu ra, kizavnu, latznu, maradnu, ni-atznu, sararnu, avinu, pashanu, tzararnu, kishinu oref, rashanu, shichanu, ti-avnu, ta-inu, ti-avnu.

The Chassidic master, Rabbi Heimlich of Liens says, “one must repeatedly confide in another person, whether spiritual counselor or trusted friend, all improper thoughts and impulses which come to one’s heart and mind, whether these occur during meditation, while lying idle waiting onset of sleep, or at any time during the day, and one should not withhold anything because of shame or embarrassment.”
Brief List for Proper Living

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Our character defects define us and protect us at the same time. Thus we fear their loss would leave us fragmented, empty and vulnerable. When the early descendants of Adam corrupted the world, God saw fit to wash it clean. We rely on God to send for spiritual waters to cleanse us, to wash away our transgressions. Each time we see a rainbow we are reminded of God’s promise always to help cleanse us. God spanned the rainbow across the heavens to serve as an eternal reminder of His connection with us. We recite continually in our hearts: Baruch ata Adonai, zocher ha-brit. (Praised are You, Adonai upon whom we rely to remember this covenant.)

Text or Verse

Adonai, hear my voice when I cry out. Take pity on me and answer me. Do not turn away Your servant in anger. You have been my help. Never leave me, never desert me. Adonai will care for me still.
Psalm 27:7, 9-10


Many believe the Psalms are the heart of the Jewish soul. Reciting them helps us sleep, soothes us, and moves us forward. Keep a book of Psalms by your bed or on your desk. When you are wrestling with your soul, remember they can help you climb the heavenly ladder.

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Humility is one of Judaism’s precepts. How can we not be humbled by God’s awesome presence? Jews cover their heads to constantly remind themselves there is a greater Power. We bow the head and bend the knee in prayer to remind ourselves that we are not in control, God is. To be humble is to speak from the strength of one’s limitations.

Text or Verse

Remember Your compassion and mercy, Adonai, for they have existed since ages past. Do not remember the sins of my youth and wrongdoing but remember me in love for the sake of your righteousness, Adonai. Good and upright is Adonai, therefore God shows the way to sinners. You guide the humble to justice. You teach the humble Your way.
Psalm 25: 6-9


In Sefer Hasidim, Yehuda He-chasid explains how to humbly approach God, letting the Holy One suffuse your spirit: “When you pray do so with a melody that is pleasant and sweet in your own ears. That melody will direct you to pray with a special feeling, since it will lead your heart to follow the direction of your words. When you ask God for something, choose an internal melody that strengthens your heart and when you speak God’s praise, choose a song that will make your own heart rejoice. Your mouth will be filled with joyous verses before God who looks directly into your heart. In such a way you will be able to praise God and come away with overflowing love and happiness.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all

Lists imply order. Some people think there is too much order in Judaism. But Jews believe that if we follow a specific way of doing things, an order that has worked for so many for so long, we have a better chance of reaching our goals. We are taught that part of our task is to restore order and goodness to the world. We have a powerful compulsion to mend the world’s imperfections. This step prepares us to begin making the world a better pace by correcting the injustice that has come from what we have or haven’t done.

Text or Verse

My God, keep my tongue from causing harm and my lips from telling lies about people.
Let me keep silent if people curse me.
Let my soul remain humble and at peace.
Open my heart to Your teaching; give me the will to practice it.
May the scheming plans of those who seek my harm come to naught.
Yihyu l’ratzon imrei fi v’hegyon libi lifanecha, Adonai Tzuri v’Goali.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, Adonai, my Rock and Redeemer.
From the end of the Amidah prayer


Taking direction from Yom Kippur liturgy, ask yourself:

Who are the people I have hurt by doing something to them?
Or, by not doing something?
Whom did I harm by telling tales about them?
Whom did I insult or jeer?
Whom did I mislead or neglect?
Towards whom was I unkind?
Whom did I hurt by yielding to my addiction?
To whom did I cause pain by robbing or stealing?
Who was hurt by my weakness or my violence?
Whom did I harm through thoughtlessness and inconsideration?

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

“There is a time to act” says Ecclesiastes. For Jews the deed is more important than the thought. Who we are is equal to what we do. Making amends heals us and the world; we begin to actively restore shalom, unity and wholeness to the world.

Text or Verse

Adonai is my shepherd, I lack nothing,
God gives me my ease in rich pastures,
Leads me to take my drink by tranquil waters.
Redeems my life.
Leads me in the ways of the right.
Out of sheer graciousness though I go through the gloomiest valleys
I fear no misfortune for You are ever with me,
Your sustaining staff is what relieves me of my anxiety:
My enemies do not bother me because You are watching over me.
You have made my heart fat with richness my cup oozes.
As long as I live my tracks will be accompanied by graciousness.
I will dwell in Adonai’s house as long as I live.
Psalm 23.


Go to someone you have offended and say “I’m sorry.”
Be ready to listen how hurt they are and how angry they were.
Ask what you can do to make things right.
Seek forgiveness for those whom you have harmed.
You are not responsible for the results.
Amends can also be made indirectly if direct amends are not possible or appropriate.
You can repay your debt anonymously or give tzedakah (a charitable donation) as amends.

The Code of Jewish Law states that all the atonement possible is ineffective if an individual has harmed another, unless forgiveness from the victim has been sought. If the wrong action resulted in financial loss, then adequate restitution is required. If the offended party refuses to grant forgiveness, he is to be approached three times. If he remains obstinant in refusing forgiveness, and the offender sincerely regrets his behavior, Divine forgiveness is assured. If the victim dies, the Code requires that the offender take a minyan (a quorum of ten) to the burial site and publicly ask for forgiveness.
Shulchan Aruch

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

In Judaism there is a tradition to arise early to do a mitzvah. As a result your entire day will be more tranquil. Jews are expected to take inventory and make amends. The Jewish tradition teaches that we are not required to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it. The inventory and the action to correct any wrongdoing becomes one and the same, simultaneously.

Text or Verse

Search me, God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts.
Psalm 137: 23


Use the rhythm of the Jewish day – 3 times of prayer – to stop and review your behavior. Cease your usual activities. Look at things the way God might look at them. Use Shabbat to review your week to see how far you have come. Don’t wait for Shabbat to make amends. As soon as you realize that you are wrong, admit it. Bachya ibn Pakuda taught that “days are scrolls. Write on them what you want remembered.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Judaism teaches we can come into contact with God through any activity with the right intention. God is present in all things and in all people so we can come into conscious contact with God through any of our interactions with the world. Through these interactions we become aware of God’s presence in our lives.

Text or Verse

The difference between one who prays and one who does not pray is not to be found in the fact that the former sets aside time every day for his prayer, while the latter does not. There is a more basic dichotomy. The types of lives those two people live are thoroughly different. The time devoted to prayer makes an impression upon every aspect of the entire day.
Abraham Isaac Kook, Olat Reiyah


Set aside time each day to talk with God. It is helpful to speak out loud in a quiet voice, in a quiet place, and in solitude. A special sacred area can help make this contact easier. Call together all your powers of concentration. Remove all distracting thoughts from your mind. Focus on the Holy Blessed One. Many rely on others’ poetry to reach out to God.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

As the result of these steps your Judaism has been renewed. Continue to work them again and again. Just as each Passover we are back in Egypt again as slaves, so each time we rework a step, we confront the addiction anew. It is important to concentrate on your own practice before carrying the message to others. From Pirke Avot 4:5 – “Regarding the person who learns in order to teach, Heaven will allow that person to continue to learn and to teach. But concerning the one who learns in order to practice, Heaven allows that person to learn and to teach, observe and practice. “

Text or Verse

How did Zusya bring a person to repentance? He went down all of the steps until he reached the other person’s level. Then Zusya bound the roots of his soul to the roots of the other person, and together their souls did repentance.
Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.


It’s important to talk about the Twelve Steps in the context of the Torah. Listen to the words of our tradition: “If three have eaten at the same table and have not spoken the words of Torah, it’s as if they had made sacrifices to dead idols.” God’s will is not in their thoughts. “But if three have eaten at the same table and the words of Torah were spoken, it’s as if they had eaten at the table of Adonai.”
Pirke Avot 3:3