“National Take the Stairs Day,” is celebrated on the second Wednesday of January. It is an opportunity to take a small step toward better health. A 160-pound individual who climbs stairs for 3 minutes can burn about 30 calories. Avoiding the elevator is known to improve one’s health.

While maintaining one’s health is a solemn Jewish value, the path to the altar outside the main chamber of the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem, specifically was a ramp, and not stairs.

In Exodus 20, God instructs the Israelites on the proper way to erect an altar to Him. “And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone, for if you lift your tool upon it you have profaned it. Neither shall you go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness is not uncovered thereon” (Exodus 20:22-23).

Although these verses refer to how one should act while bringing an offering, it is a cogent example of the subtle lessons found in the Torah that actually apply to everyday life as well. In this case, the lesson reflects the necessity of modesty, since walking stairs requires one to lift their robe exposing their naked feet. The concept of modesty is often discussed in the context of religious life, usually in reference to a dress code. Modesty, however, goes beyond dress. It is a way that people carry themselves, the way they interact with the world.

Being aware that walking up steps might reveal one’s nakedness reflects a general awareness of one’s surroundings and the necessary appropriate behavior in those surroundings. There is a time for laughter and a time for seriousness. There are places where it is appropriate to dress casually and places where formal dress is necessary.

Being a modest person means knowing when it is the right time to walk up the ramp rather than take the stairs.

Portions of this Treat was previously posted on February 16, 2017.

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