According to the Torah, the kohanim cannot climb up to the altar using steps, since that would allow the possibility of “uncovered nakedness,” given the way the uniforms are worn by the kohanim (see Shemot 20:22). To avoid this problem, the kohanim climbed to the altar by means of a kevesh – a ramp that led to the top of the mizbe’ah.
The Gemara on today’s daf (=page) offers some details regarding the kevesh. Rami bar Hama taught that all kivshei kevashim were three amot (=cubits) in length for every amah in height, while the main kevesh was a little more than three-and-a-half amot for every amah in height.
Many of the commentaries understand that kivshei kevashim referred to in this teaching are the smaller ramps next to the main kevesh. These smaller ramps lead to the sovev – the walkway that ran around the altar that the kohanim would use to sprinkle blood on the corners of the mizbe’ah. Since the main ramp was used by the kohanim to carry heavy pieces of the animal up to the mizbe’ah to be burned, the more gradual incline allowed the kohanim to do so more comfortably and
safely. According to this approach, the term kivshei kevashim indicates that it refers to a smaller kevesh. Rashi, however, suggests that the plural term kivshei kevashim refers to all of the ramps that were in the Temple, aside from the main ramp to the altar, and the three-to-one ratio was simply the engineering standard of the time.
Regarding the length of the main ramp, Rashi teaches that it was 32 amot long. There is, however, a Mishnah inMasechet Middot that teaches that the beginning of the kevesh was 32 amot away from the altar, which would make the incline a bit longer than that. Several explanations are offered to this problem. In his Panim Me’irot, Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt argues that at floor level the kevesh was 30 amot and that the ramp was 32 amot. Furthermore, the two amot closest to the altar were flattened out in order to offer a place at the end of the ramp to allow the kohanim to stand comfortably when they threw the pieces of the sacrifices on the altar to be burned.