Swimming in Moses' Well
Poems on Numbers
By Yakov Azriel
Time Being Books, 2011, 113 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 5, 2011
This is a beautiful and thought provoking book of poetry that is easy to read and understand, unlike many poetic books that are filled with obscure illusions to Greek and Roman fables and other literature that most people don't know. Yaakov Azriel is an Israeli, born in America, who studied in Israel and has a doctorate in Judaica. His poems have won twelve prizes in international competitions. This is his fourth book of sonnets in which he cites biblical verses and draws striking and thoughtful poems from them, which links the past with the present, and offers readers powerful thoughts with modern relevance.
In the second half of his poem "The Well in the Desert," based on Numbers 21:18, for example, he writes about faith:
I do not know the mysteries of good
And evil, life and death; I cannot tell
The reason why we suffer and we cry.
Omniscient God, I only know I should
Not leave the well that Moses dug, the well
In which I see reflections of Your sky.
Azriel draws on the story of Balaam's donkey in Numbers 22:25. The Bible states that she could see "the angel of the Lord," while the visionary Balaam, despite his ability to prophesy, could not see the angel. In the first and last of four stanzas, he writes:
Pushing beyond mere natural limitations,
Sees angels standing on roads and footpaths;
Her soul, inspired, soars intoxicated.
God, can I attain a donkey's insight, and a donkey's vision?
Can I merit the fluent diction, the flowing command of speech,
The clear prophetic voice
Of a donkey?
A final example of these fine poems is one called "Email," based on Numbers 36:13. Azriel begins by saying:
I received an email from God,
Inviting me to visit
He goes on to describe the email. Then, in the middle of the poem, he writes:
My brother received this email, too.
But it's a scam, he said.
Why would God Almighty be interested
In worms that slither senselessly in the dirt,
In flies that eat dust and mate in dung,
In fleas that suck the blood of dogs?
My bother deleted the email,
Advising me to do the same.
What should I do?
These fragments of whole poems show that Azriel's language is accessible and that his images are novel and powerful, so that readers will enjoy this book.