Stairs & Ramps
After spending two years walking with Canadian crutches, and then a walker for a few years, I look at stairs and ramps with all sorts of mixed feelings. I used to look up at even just a few stairs with dread. Ramps were a reminder of my physical limitations. Exhausted at the top of stairs, I had a sense of accomplishment that I never experienced when reaching the top of a ramp.
I used to count each stair I climbed. “Ten, only four more to go.” I also knew that halfway up, I had to finish the stairs, because it would demand just as much work to give up and climb back down.
I determined how far I climbed with each movement up a ramp. Stairs are set and they determine how far I would have to reach. Stairs demanded a specific effort. Ramps offered me the choice of how much effort I would expend.
Ramps are continuous. Stairs are discreet. Each step is a specific achievement.
There is an interesting Mitzvah-Concept in this week’s portion: (Mitzvah 41 – Concept 303 “You shall not ascend My altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it.” (Exodus 20:23) There was a ramp up to the top of the altar. Stairs were forbidden.
And yet, in order to enter the section of the Temple to reach the Altar, one had to climb 15 steps. We celebrate those steps with the 15 Songs of Ascension in Psalms, the 15 Steps of the Seder, and the 15 Steps of the Morning Temple Service.
Why are stairs so necessary and celebrated in order to enter the Temple sanctuary, and yet forbidden to reach the top of the altar? Why is there no concern for “so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it,” regarding the 15 stairs before the Sanctuary?
There is a difference between entering a new stage of a relationship and expressing the new level in action. Relationships develop in stages. We can stop, measure and celebrate each new stage. Each is an accomplishment. There are two parties to the relationship and, when that relationship is with the Almighty, He measures each step we must climb as we reach to become closer to Him.
The steps into the Sanctuary are discreet and measured. God guides us through a process. Stairs are the only appropriate way to enter the Sanctuary.
However, once we have achieved intimacy, and have entered His Sanctuary, when we desire to express our feelings in His service, we move at our own pace without specific instructions, we climb a ramp. We are expressing our deepest feelings, our innermost emotions are exposed and we must protect our “nakedness.” Only a ramp is appropriate at such a point.
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