Yakov Azriel was born in New York, in 1950, as Gerald Rosenkrantz.  After receiving his B.A. in English literature, summa cum laude, at Brooklyn College in 1971, he moved to Israel, where he changed his name to Yakov Azriel.  He studied at the Mercaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva, in Jerusalem, and the Har-Etzion Yeshiva, in Alon-Shvut, Israel, as well as in the Masters Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University.  He later completed an M.A., with distinction, and a doctorate in Judaica, concentrating on the stories of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav.  His poems on Biblical themes have been published in journals in the U.S., the U.K., and Israel, and his poems have won five prizes in international poetry competitions, most recently the Miriam Lindberg Israel Poetry Prize for Peace, in 2004.  He was recently awarded a fellowship from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture for his poetry.  Yakov Azriel is married and has seven children.


The following poems are reproduced by permission from Threads from a Coat of Many Colors, his first full-length collection (Time Being Books [www.timebeing.com], 2005). 



In the Beginning


"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. "

                (Genesis 1:1)


First day: Do you wish to know how light

Can find a voice and sing,

How light can grow legs and dance?

The light emanating from the name

Of God, hidden and hiding in

Worlds within words, breaks out to shine.


Second day: The upper waters ascend from the shadows to shine

As they wash and separate heavy black Torah letters from light

White parchment. The lower waters, descending, sing

Hymns as they read the notes of music inscribed in

Molecules of water, accompanied by soft waves that dance

As they separate and divide to spell out the letters of God's name.


Third day: Are you searching for the Shechinah's throne and the name

She gives her kingdom? Find them not only in

The praise the light-green grass prays or in the psalms light-

­Green seaweeds whisper as they sway; but her crown and scepter shine

In every living cell, as millions of genes sing

Her name, as chromosomes dazed by her glory dance.


Fourth day: If the righteous teach the crippled how to dance

And help each nobody find a sacred name;

If the moon reflects the sun, the sun reflects our deeds; if, in

Blinded or bruised eyes, the righteous allow light

To enter, so that eyes heal and see and shine

Again; if so, the sun can rekindle, the moon glow and sing.


Fifth day: When leviathans rebel; when snakes refuse to sing;

When peacocks mutate into vultures and refuse to shine;

When the King of the universe seems to abdicate His throne, king in name

Only; when Torah letters cease to swirl in Hasidic dance,

Freeze and petrify; when the only light

Is Job's night, open, then, the gates of the soul, invite faith in.


Sixth day:  Who is audacious enough to believe “In

The image of God, God created Man?”  The words dance

And teach the crippled to prance, too; the words shine

And teach moons and suns to blanz; the words sing

And give dust and ashes, fusing with God’s name,

The audacity and courage to ignite the light.


   Shabbat:  The Sabbath gives her crown, her name, her dance,

            Her dreams to all who sing, who yearn to shine

                        With joy, in her palace of light.






Let There Be Light


"The earth was unformed and void,

and darkness was upon the face of the deep;

and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.

God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. "

(Genesis 1:2-3)


As red

As supernovas bursting, as red giants exploding,

As eleven ruby stars in Joseph's dreams,

Red is the Torah light. Its beams

Penetrate the cavern of chaos called the world,

To reveal structure:

Stratified layers of meaning,

Slowly dripping stalactites of insight,

Stalagmites of understanding, ascending.


As blue

As Jerusalem's summer skies,

As Joseph's entreating eyes,

Blue is the light of Israel,

Revealing in the depths of cavern-canyons

Underground currents flowing, converging,

Fed from fathomless sources: Joseph's fathers, Joseph's mothers,

Each drop a child of Joseph and his brothers.

A river of destiny cascades, turbulent,

Towards a tranquil turquoise sea of redemption, unseen

But not unforeseen.


As yellow

As Jerusalem's noontime sun,

As eleven sheaves of wheat bowing to one,

Yellow is the light of the Soul,

Piercing, like x-rays, the skin of cavern walls,

To reveal ribs of God's concern,

God's caress, contours of His care

Supporting, uplifting, embracing

The anatomy of the cave.


O God, grant us fire.

In the dark chill of the cave, wrap us in warm fabric

Woven from a coat of many colors.

Let my left hand grasp a Torch

And my right the prism of Faith, Joseph’s prism,

To transform and unify Red, Blue, Yellow

Into radiant illumination,





The Tikkun of the Moon


"And God made the two great lights: the larger light to rule the day

and the lesser light to rule the night. . . "

(Genesis 1: 16)


"May it be Your will, O Lord, my God and the God of my fathers,

 to heal the moon's deficiency so that she no longer be flawed;

may the light of the moon be again like the light of the sun

 and the light of the seven days of Creation,

as she was before her diminution, as it is written: 'the two great lights.'

May there be fulfilled upon us the verse:

'They will seek the Lord their God and David their king.'  Amen. "

(traditional Jewish blessing for the new moon)


The Sun,

          a wrinkled, elderly seamstress sitting in an unheated hovel,

          cries as she sits by the bed of her sick granddaughter,

The Moon.

          Her granddaughter lies motionless, pale and emaciated,

          unable to awaken, her pulse scarcely detectable.

The Sun,

          shivering, exhausted, returns to the antique sewing machine,

          where she stitches the luminous satin wedding gown

The Moon,

          her granddaughter, is to wear

          under the canopy, on the day of her marriage.

The Sun

          knows when the dress is finished,

          she will be able to heal and escort

The Moon,

           her granddaughter, smiling, stepping quickly,

           almost dancing, to the wedding canopy,


And the true beginning of time,

The day of the moonrise,






Oneg Shabbat


"And God blessed tbe seventh day and sanctified it;

because on it He rested from all His work that God in creating had made. "

(Genesis 2:3)


               for Shoshanah Ehrlich, Jacob Rechnitz, and S.J. Agnon


Inside the study hall

(Windows shut and doors closed),

The six brothers sit,

Each one bent over his volume of the Talmud.

That one reads a commentary in the back;

This one argues with his brother about a word's meaning;

Another asks the rabbi for his opinion:

"Why does the verse use this phrase?"

"Where is there a parallel passage?"


But outside the study hall,

The seventh child, the youngest,

The daughter,


In her father's garden

Amidst the shadows of the eucalyptus and willows,

Dipping her hands into the pond in the middle of the garden,

Laughing as she fails to catch the tadpoles

Slipping between her fingers.


When she thinks no one is watching,

She wades into the water

And plunges headfirst

To gather water-blossoms on the bottom.

After counting to seven,

She emerges, laughing, adorning her drenched hair

With a garland of white lilies of the pond.


If you should manage to catch her (before she slips between your fingers);

                                    If you should bend over, bow and ask her humbly;

                                                                        She may agree to teach you

            How to dance in step with the wind orchestrating the leaves,

                        to hear the leaves whispering her father's secrets to the wind,

                        to gaze at clouds transforming from camel to weasel to whale to dove,

                                                                                         and on the wings of clouds,

                                                                                                                      to soar.







"They heard tbe voice of the Lord God

walking in the Garden toward the cool of the day;

and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God

in the trees of the Garden. And the Lord God called out to the man,

and said to him, 'Where are you?'"

(Genesis 3:8-9)



I  had found such a good hiding place

That I was sure He would never find me.

I had managed to dig out the heart

Of this tree in the middle of the garden,

Then seal the hole with thick, heavy stones.


I heard Him calling out to me,

"Where are you? Where are you?"

And as He kept searching, kept trying to find me,

I smirked,

"What a joke."


Time passed --  hours? days? years?

But I wouldn't budge.

I snickered

As He kept searching, kept calling out,

"Where are you?"




When I finally didn't hear His voice anymore,

I came out


Radiant –

"I've won!"


But the garden – all the trees leafless and withered, their branches

     broken and brittle;

No flowers, no grass, burnt stumps for bushes, gray ash everywhere,

As if some cloud of radioactive fallout

Had descended, had enveloped



And the river, with its countless cataracts and rapids, which had gushed and   


With the waters of four tributaries –


I walk over the dry, cracked riverbed, searching

For what?  For whom?




I can’t see the sunset because of the fog


But it’s getting dark


And I’m hungry


And I’m cold


And there’s only silence.


Can it be that He’s given up on me,


That he’s found a really good hiding place?


Hey Mister – Sir –

Where are You? 




To Irrigate the Desert


            "Isaac brought her to the tent of his mother Sarah;

he betrothed Rebecca and she became his wife, and he loved her. "

            (Genesis 24:67)


Beneath meters of baked desert sand and scorched rock,


Of untapped waters, cool, almost ice,

Wait for the well to be dug.

With patience and God's help,

I'll locate the site, dig the well,

And subterranean waters

Will rise.


So too is my mouth a desert -

Speechless, soundless.

Yet underneath layers of silent skin and tissue,


Of untapped feelings and countless unheard songs


With patience and God's help,

I'll utter the unexpressed words, release hidden melodies,

And submerged emotions

Will emerge.


Thus my love for you:

Buried deep within,

Waiting to be excavated and exposed,

The songs of my love for you

Well up, flow out,

To irrigate

The two deserts of our lives.



(From "Twenty-Two Letters for Jacob")

Inside me, incarcerated, hides a

Finer me. An exquisite Greek statue,

Locked in a slab of marble, awaits the

Sculptor's chisel, to whittle, cut, pound, hew


          Away unwanted rock and liberate.

          I, the only sculptor, armless. My true

          Hands, knowing of craftsmanship and art, wait

          Helpless in the stone. Visions of a Jew


serving God in truth, serving people in

Compassion – in my mind, these visions blaze.

But the chip, chip-away of rock, of sin

How? The tools to chip – where? My father's gaze,


          His voice, his words reverberate in me;

          Let these, my fingers and my chisel be.



(The following poems appeared in The Neovictorian/Cochlea.)



"And see the children of your children …" (Psalm 128:6)

"When her [Rebecca's] time to give birth came, behold — twins in her womb" (Genesis 25:24)

My grandsons sleep. And as they stir, the years

When my wife and I could not conceive a child,

When my son as well seemed cursed, bewitched, beguiled,

When our lives were ruled by sterile, barren tears,


Are pushed aside. My grandsons sleep. My hairs

Are gray and few; my voice, now soft and mild,

Has lost its former force, when words were piled

Like stones on walls erecting forts of prayers.


My grandsons sleep; I look at them and cry,

Then bow before my God who's shown me grace,

Who let me know today that all the pain,

      The sacrifices made, the scoffers’ "why,"

      The stubborn faith that God will show His face –

      It hasn't been in vain, no, not in vain.




"In You did our fathers trust, they trusted and You delivered them." (Psalm 22:5)

"After these things, the word of the Lord came to Abram, "Do not fear, Abram, I am your Shield …" (Genesis 15:1)

You, who were the Shield of Abraham, shield

Us now from waves of arrows which precede

The cavalry's assault, and intercede

To stop barbed clubs the enemy will wield.


For You, who shielded Isaac and concealed

Him underneath Your armor, see we bleed

From piercing darts; our father's God, we need

Your ointment for our wounds which have not healed.


As Jacob's Shield, You saved him from the sword

His brother held by giving him the strength

To wrestle with an angel in the night;

      Endow us with our fathers' faith, O Lord,

      And shield us, as we struggle in the length

      And breadth of life, with bucklers of Your light.


(The following poem received an Honorable Mention in the 2005 Reuben Rose Memorial Poetry Competition)




Moses encountered a bush ablaze, whose light

Bestowed upon the shepherd speech and sight;

The bush brought forth a spark that would ignite

An inner fire inside the man; he heard

A voice within a voice that uttered the Word

Of God, which fluttered and hovered like a bird.


Samuel often dreamt he saw a bird

Flying and gliding upward toward a light.

But once, the little boy awoke and heard

A voice that called his name; the voice's word

Transformed into a candle that could ignite

The failing lamp of God, and grant him sight.


Elijah inside the cave had lost his sight,

His sense of hearing and his hope; yet the Word

Returned in a still small voice that lit the light

Of faith, that faith which once had brought a bird

To feed him meat and bread; the voice he heard

Extinguished fires that flames of doubt ignite.


Isaiah found the words which would ignite

Belief and trust that Zion, like a bird,

Should surely fly again, taught by the Word

Of God to find its nest and home; the light

Enkindled by his words gave blind slaves sight

And hope to hear the bird they once had heard.


Jeremiah cried, lamented, mourned; he heard

Too well that Word of God whose sparks ignite

A fire that scorches every tree and bird,

A fire which bums a prophet's throat and sight,

A fire all heat and flame without the light,

A fire which singes every human word.


Ezekiel received in awe the Word

Of God, and bowed in the valley when he heard

Dry bones rattle; he trembled at the sight

Of flesh and skin; he watched his words ignite

The spark of life within the risen bird

Of Zion, a phoenix soaring toward the light.


The Messiah waits for God's Word to ignite

White flames, the sign for a bird to bring him sight.

If only prophets heard where shines his light!