Taking a Step Back

August 13, 2021 in Hazzan Asa Fradkin

As many of you know, Sarah and I recently returned from an anniversary trip to Paris. Our 15th anniversary finally prompted us to visit the city of light, as its always been one of Sarah’s favorite places, not least of which because her birthday is on July 14th, Bastille day.

 When you’re only in Paris for only four days, you have to be judicious in your touring priorities. One must see location is the L’Orangerie, the museum dedicated to Monet’s Water Lilies.

Located in the Tuileries gardens, the museum’s upper floor was specifically designed by Monet to host his masterpiece.

What you may not know about this famous work, is that it encompasses two distinct rooms, shaped in opposing ovals to indicate the infinite. The work is a series of canvases neatly and imperceptibly stitched together to create panoramic views and perspectives of Monet’s beloved Giverny, where Monet lived and worked alongside the lily pond.

Monet intended the viewing experience as a meditation and the rooms containing his master work were to be silent, so as to enhance the sense of the infinite when gazing upon the lilies.

As was the case in many museums we visited, there were many viewers who were more eager to view the work through the lens of their cell phone camera, than through their own eyes.

It gave me great pause, especially as Sarah and I stood back from the paintings, rotating ourselves around the rooms, discovering the paintings in startlingly different lights.

Those who stood back could see the eternal in these paintings, the love, devotion and intimacy with which Monet painted these great portraits of his life’s passion.

It made me glad that Monet never had a cell phone. He spent decades creating the Water Lilies. Could he have maintained such focus in our media driven world of pops and buzzes from ones personal device? He certainly did not intend viewers to stand before his work, snapping photos up close to document their visit for perpetuity.

The rooms were designed for visitors to view the Lilies from every possible angle, to step back and see new perspectives as they floated through the rooms.

For me, praying is also taking a step back. Lots of people stress about service length, Hebrew fluency, their daily schedule, and all the responsibilities that tug at each one of us. This close up focus can cloud our ability to take in the eternity of Shabbat.

Shabbat is our time to step back. To pray to god and be with the divine in a completely uninterrupted way. Whether you know every word of the prayers or you simply read the poetic translations, stepping back is a gift.

Monet had the gift of time and he created the eternal. Each week we are bestowed with that gift as well. Let’s take it. Hold it close. Step back and and step into the eternal.

Shabbat Shalom,
Hazzan Fradkin

10 comments

  • Linda Kolko says:

    beautiful. thanks. Happy anniversary adn happy birthday, Sarah.
    Shabbat Shalom

  • Hedy Nash and John Wetterau says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful message. It was so well expressed.
    Happy anniversary to you and Sarah.
    Hedy Nash and John Wetterau

  • Carol Reynolds says:

    Those rooms at the Orangerie are one of my favorite places in Paris. I try to get there anytime I am in the city, for the sheer beauty and because of the contemplative atmosphere they provide.

  • Larry Sidman says:

    A lovely reflection for Shabbat, combining the wonders of art, paying homage to nature, and your special anniversary trip to Paris. Uplifting and soothing at the same time.
    Mazel Tov and Shabbat Shalom.

  • Nahum Gershon says:

    Happy anniversary!!
    Wondering if you had the chance to visit the Pletzl – the Jewish quarter around rue des Rosiers. The synagogue on 10 rue Pavée was designed in 1913 by Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard, who designed several Paris Metro stations. The Museum of Jewish Art & History?

    Too bad that Chez Jo Goldenberg restaurant is closed, but did you have a chance to visit the others (e.g., https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g187147-zfz10768-Paris_Ile_de_France.html )…?

    • Hazzan Asa Fradkin says:

      We got it the Jewish quarter but the kosher places were all closed except the bakery with the worlds biggest meringues. Didn’t see very many Shuls actually. Maybe next time:-)

  • stanley wolf says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful perspective on art and prayer – that both can take us into different worlds if we fully focus on them and fully disengage from everyday matters.

    Mazel tov on your 15th anniversary!

  • Lee says:

    Nice story, Hazzan.

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