What is the origin of the escalator analogy of always striving for growth? I'm referring to the analogy that, in life, like a person climbing a downward escalator, if one is not constantly striving higher and moving forward, one is by definition moving backward and downward, not merely at rest.

I've heard this as inspiration and Divrei Hizzuk inserted into Divrei Torah, but there is obviously no Midrash that would have used this exact analogy. I assume that, if it has Jewish origins, it would have to be a 20th Century rabbi or Jewish theologian (the first working escalator was installed in 1896 - Wikipedia). Who coined it, and when?


3 Answers 3


I have seen several letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe (such as this, this, this, and this) that say some variation of the following (אגרות קודש > כרך י > ג'שעט):

וכפתגם כ"ק מו"ח אדמו"ר זצוקללה"ה נבג"מ זי"ע שבימינו אלה הוא ע"ד אחד המטפס ועולה על הר משופע ביותר, שההולך במישור יכול לעמוד לאיזה משך זמן לנוח משא"כ בשפוע ההר הנה כשעומד הרי זה בד"מ נסיגה לאחור און ער גליטש זיך אראפ און אראפ ר"ל

And like the saying of the Previous Rebbe, that in our times it is as one finds oneself going up a very steep hill. One who walks on a level plane may stand a bit and rest. Not so when one is on the steep slope of the hill. If he were to stands still he would automatically retreat backwards and he would slide down the hill.

I'm not sure I understood this letter from 27th of Av, 1959, but it appears that the Rebbe told this parable to a group of Rabanim, which is where it may have spread.


The source is probably the commentary of the Gra (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna) to Mishlei 15:24. (Then more recently someone must have used the metaphor of an escalator to illustrate the Gra's idea.)

  • 1
    Funny. I was on an escalator when I got a notification that someone had answered this question!
    – Seth J
    Mar 24, 2017 at 21:01

The final pasuk in parashas Yisro says

וְלֹא תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת עַל מִזְבְּחִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ עָלָיו

The simple understanding is that the altar may not be built with a staircase leading to the top. The deeper understanding is that there must be a ramp up to service of God so that a person can never "plateau" but rather always be ascending. The implication is that failure to ascend automatically entails descent since there are no stairs.

It's no escalator but it sounds like exactly your idea.

  • 3
    Yes, but where does this interpretation come from? I looked at the source markup and it looks like you inteded to link to Noam Elimelech. Is this where the idea comes from?
    – Menachem
    Jun 14, 2013 at 0:07
  • I am suggesting that it could be as old as the pasuk and that the escalator is just a modern transfer of an old idea. Where is the interpretation brought down? . . . Good question. No'am Elimelech was a mistake. He does interpret the pasuk as relating to avodas Hashem but doesn't say the constant-up-or-down part.
    – WAF
    Jun 14, 2013 at 0:10
  • I heard it darshened by a Bobover friend like this: "In avodas Hashem, one must go up smoothly as a ramp, not leaping upward beyond ones means as on a staircase." Is that what you're looking for? Aug 13, 2013 at 17:17

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