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In the Shadow of a Burning Bush: Poems on Exodus

by Yakov Azriel

In the Shadow of a Burning Bush

"And Moses said, 'Let me turn aside and see this great sight; why doesn't the bush burn?'" (Exodus 3:3)

In the shadow of a burning bush, and in
Its light, we gaze beyond the desert dunes,
Beyond the desecrated Temple ruins
Where Temple priests had once atoned our sin.
In the bush's shadow, and its light, a thin
Unbroken thread of grace is seen, which moons
Had woven here on sunless afternoons
To be a string for David's violin.

Behold, the bush of faith resists the flames
Which burned the Temple gates and scorch our mind,
Ignited in the night by brutish hands;
For still moist leaves retain the sacred names
Of God, and in the bush's shade we find
A watered garden on the Temple's sands.

Use the player below to listen to Yakov Azriel read this poem.


Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the Torah and the rabbinic texts, Yakov Azriel retells the story of Moses and the Exodus in a series of inspired poems. Like the authors of the Midrash, he reads between the lines and intuits the untold parts of the story. So too does he link many aspects of the biblical account with later episodes in Jewish history, such as the Holocaust. Azriel writes with the kind of authority rarely found among modern poets, with strong echoes of Hayim Nachman Bialik, whose biblical poems have themselves become sacred texts.
— Howard Schwartz, author of Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism

Yakov Azriel has followed his splendid poetic commentary on Genesis, Threads from a Coat of Many Colors, with an even more powerful commentary on Exodus. In the Shadow of a Burning Bush is simultaneously a retelling of the Exodus story, a reliving of Jewish history, and an expression of contemporary Jewish experience. Mr. Azriel approaches these themes with a mastery of poetic forms — from sonnet to free verse — and a brilliant visual and auditory imagination. This is truly high art in the service of faith; the poems seem destined to be read at the Passover seder or at the Sabbath table. As a term of comparison, the Arthur Szyk Haggadah comes to mind; each represents both a significant artistic achievement and an affirmation of the Jewish present.
— Esther Cameron, editor of the Deronda Review and author of Rim of Gold

In the Shadow of a Burning Bush
is Yakov Azriel's second collection of verse, a series of powerful meditations on key passages in the book of Exodus which are frequently linked to Jewish historical experience, often with the Shoah as it's prefigured in Pharaoh, and always with a freshness and insight un-embittered by the pain often present in the subject matter. This is poetry as a prayerful bridge across time and space, a kind of contemporary midrash. It's a refusal to allow history to hinder the voice of contemporary spiritual experience and poetry as participation in ancient events as present meaning.
— Albert Radcliffe, Canon Emeritus of Manchester Cathedral, England, and organizer of its Annual Interfaith Religious Poetry Competition

Yakov Azriel's new volume takes the genre of midrashic poetry to the next level. These well-crafted poems are filled with tenderness and nuance; weaving modern sensibility and ancient narrative, this luminous book encourages us to see the Bible with new eyes.
— Amy Gottlieb, editorial director of Aviv Press

In the Shadow of a Burning Bush
is Yakov Azriel's new haggadah for Israel and a record of his wrestling match with Jewish history, his conflicted love for the God who set that history in motion, and the joy and pain he feels when he thinks of the country that has been his home for nearly forty years. By using the Exodus narrative as the central motif in his extended series of elegant and technically brilliant poems, the poet is able to link biblical and modern Israel with the fate of Jews during the Holocaust. His complaint is that the One God who spoke to Moses and showed him the way to lead his people out of slavery in ancient Egypt remained silent during the Shoah and remains silent still, in the face of contemporary threats to the existence of his nation. Yakov Azriel writes with the clarity, love, and fierceness of the Hebrew prophets and, on the eve of Israel's 60th birthday, all of us should listen.
— Charles Adès Fishman, author, Chopin's Piano, Country of Memory, The Death Mazurka, and other books, and editor of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust

Once again Yakov Azriel has reached deep to discover new ways of reading ancient texts. From “The Tree of Israel,” which waits for spring at the mercy of the Amalekian woodcutter, to a powerful imagining of Egyptian slavery in “The Angel of Death Does Not Pass over Us,” Azriel's In the Shadow of a Burning Bush brings new images and insights into the book of Exodus. This collection is meant to be read and savored, and its multiple poems on the four questions, the plagues, and the four sons (and four daughters), will find a ready audience at the Passover Seder.
— Rabbi Gilah Langner, coeditor of Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism

In the Shadow of a Burning Bush combines formal experimentation with midrashic imagination. Like many writers today, Yakov Azriel revisits the words, and more interestingly, the gaps, in Biblical narrative to touch on Jewish and universal themes. The result is a voice at times prophetic, sometimes conversational, other times almost liturgical.
— Jay Michaelson, author of Another Word for Sky: Poems

Again, as he did for the book of Genesis, Yakov Azriel writes his own poetic midrash on the book of Exodus. As he follows Israel's journey from slavery to freedom, he seamlessly interweaves images from the Bible with images from modern Jewish history, particularly that of the Holocaust. He moves on to visions of redemption, drawing from the Biblical Prophets, from Chassidic sources and from deep within his own soul. Yakov Azriel has created a book that can immeasurably enhance classroom discussion, sermonic presentations, and which can guide each one of us as we attempt to find personal meaning in the words of the Bible. Through the poems of Yakov Azriel, we get a glimpse of how we can view our own struggles through the medium of the Biblical narrative.
— Rabbi Reuben Landman, Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim, Silver Spring, Maryland

Yakov Azriel looks at the world differently than most of us and that is why he discovers pearls of insight that escape us. And yet, we, too, can see those pearls because of his great gift: Azriel has the ability to paint pictures with his words of what his eyes see and his mind intuits. How fortunate we are to be allowed into his head.
— Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, editor of Judaism: A Journal of Jewish Life & Thought

Yakov Azriel has gifted us with a most heartfelt and soul stirring commentary on the Bible in his masterful work In the Shadow of a Burning Bush. I truly believe that it should be read by all as an important commentary to the Bible.
— Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, Israel, and Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions

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