Swimming in Moses' Well: Poems on Numbers

by Yakov Azriel

The Intimacy of Distance 

             “When Moses came into the Tent of Meeting
                     so that He might speak with him,
                 he would hear the Voice speaking to him
                from above the Ark-cover which was atop
   the Ark of the Covenant, from between the two cherubim;
                              and He spoke to him.”
                                 (Numbers 7:89)


Courting, Jacob walks with Rachel in the field at dusk.
As a breeze pushes a strand of hair into her eyes,
Jacob raises his hand to brush it aside;
She blushes, and turns her head away;
He blushes, too, and quickly lowers his hand,
         Touching, not touching;
                  Here, the intimacy of distance,
                  The closeness of the unapproachable.

In the Tent of Meeting,
Two golden cherubim on the cover of the sacred Ark:
One, with the face of a boy, the other — the face of a girl;
Each turned to the other,
Their lips a hair-breadth apart,
          Touching, not touching,
          Meeting, not meeting;
                    Here, the intimacy of distance,
                    The closeness of the unapproachable.

In the gap
Between the two cherubim
Echoes the Voice of God
Touching, not touching,
           Meeting, not meeting,
           Merging, not merging;
                     Like a wind hovering above the waters,
                     Like the feathers of a wing,
                     Like the softness of a breath.

In the gap,
A convergence
Between prophet and the Master of all worlds;
           Here, the intimacy of distance,
           The closeness of the unapproachable.

And in the hour of grace,
The soul trembles,
           Touching, not touching,
           Meeting, not meeting,
           Merging, not merging,
           Contacting, not contacting the Source of all souls
                    In the intimacy of distance,
                    In the closeness of the unapproachable,
                    In a Tent of Meeting
                    Here and now.


Yakov Azriel builds remarkable poems around the armature of biblical passages. His project in Swimming in Moses' Well is to grapple with Numbers, the fourth of the five "books of Moses," to see if his faith in the ancient story and in his relationship with the God who presided over it can survive under the breaking wave of the modern world.

There are many beautiful, insightful and powerfully tender poems in this collection, in which Azriel links the ancient history of Israel with the current moment. These are the poems of a man whose life would be empty without his family and without the words he calls to himself through the medium of faith, yet he must work hard to keep open a channel to the source of his devotion to his writing and to God.

Azriel's writing, in fact, is the record of his devotion, which he sustains by imagining himself living in the aftershadow of a great explosion — the Jewish people's exodus from slavery — and he achieves the almost impossible by renewing his commitment to being a man of this world and also a poet of the Word.

— Charles Fishman, editor of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and author of Chopin's Piano and In the Language of Women


In Swimming in Moses' Well, the fourth in his series of verse commentaries on the Pentateuch, Yakov Azriel continues to probe the mysteries both of Torah and of life in this puzzling time, while demonstrating his mastery of both free and formal verse. Azriel’s sonnets are surely destined to take their place among the most significant works in that form. Among the searchings of contemporary literature, Azriel’s is an oeuvre that touches the hem of prophecy and looks toward its rebirth.

— Esther Cameron, editor of the Deronda Review and author of Rim of Gold


Through faith, we gain a bit of soulfulness. Swimming in Moses' Well is a collection of poetry surrounding the book of Numbers, in the Torah and Old Testament, as Yakov Azriel delivers a bit of religiously charged poetry in our life and our push forward. Swimming in Moses' Well has plenty of unique thought, very much worth considering.

Midwest Book Review


Yakov Azriel opens his heart to the reader and shares the love and deep faith that dwells within him. (Oh, lest I forget, a bit of humor, too!) You do not have to be a poet to appreciate Swimming in Moses’'Well: Poems on Numbers. If you are a person who enjoys family, faith, and thinking about thinking, this book is for you.



This book is available in Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, and Apple E-book formats, for purchase, and through public libraries' Overdrive account, for loan.




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