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In Shemot 20:23, Hashem commands us not to ascend to the mizbe'ach (sacrificial altar) with stairs for reasons of modesty. However, we learn in Tamid (3, 9) that the Menorah had stairs before it in order for the Kohanim to reach the lights. If stairs are prohibited because of modesty, then it would seem that they would be more of an issue with the Menorah which is much closer to the Kodesh Hakodashim than the mizbe'ach.

How do we resolve this discrepancy?

(On a related note, why aren't stairs prohibited outright?)

  • The menorah was only about 5 feet tall. The steps didn't need to go up that high in order for the Kohen to be able to light it. The Mizbeach on the other hand, was about 15 feet tall. If it had steps, someone standing underneath would more easily be able to see inside the kohen's clothes. – Y K Jan 23 '17 at 7:25
  • שלא תיגלה ערוותך עליו says that the kevesh is itself a part of the Mizbeach and you are not allowed to uncover your nakedness. For the menora, the stairs is only a stone without Kedusha. – kouty Jan 23 '17 at 14:50
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The problem, as written in the verse, is towards the altar itself (not someone else seeing). See in Rashi that the kohen could uncover his body in front of the stones [and we learn a fortiori to avoid embarassing an human].

But, the כבש also was sacred, see Zevahim 9, 7

כשם שהמזבח מקדש ..כך הכבש מקדש

In opposite, the stairs before the menora were not sacred themselves. (They were just a tool to reach the lights.)

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    If you mean that the stones of the ramp/stairs are sacred, then a ramp wouldn't help since the stones could still "see" inside the tunic. – HaLailah HaZeh Jan 23 '17 at 14:44
  • @HaLailahHaZeh Rashi explains that, for climbing stairs one must more separate the legs [that considered a lack of respect] than on a ramp. – yO_ Jan 23 '17 at 16:43

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