Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)
The last sentence of this week’s Parsha states that ramps should lead to the altar. (Exodus 20:23) Why are ramps used and not steps? Rashi says the issue is one of modesty. In the ancient Near East nudity was associated with ritual activity, a link is rejected by Torah. If there were steps, the robe of the priest would be upset while he climbed them, revealing the nakedness of his limbs. With ramps, this would not occur.
Rabbi Weiss offers another idea. The altar symbolizes a central place of spirituality, the ramps connecting the ground with the altar teach that in order to reach the higher world of the spirit one must be in constant motion. Ramps imply perpetual movement, whereas steps can offer rest. In the world of the spirit, one can either ascend or descend, never can one stand still.