Poetry about religion often implies a dichotomy between an ideal way of living inspired by the Divine and human evil. The split may become even more obvious when considering the Book of Leviticus, which details numerous religious prohibitions and the severe consequences of disobeying any of these laws. Yakov Azriel writes beyond the dry, relentlessly harsh quality of Leviticus and brings the heart to this topic in this collection. Consider the title poem, in which the author hopes that his meditations may expand beyond their surface appearance, “May songs I write be brought as beads — / Beads for the Messiah’s wife…Perhaps she’ll take the beads I string/To wear when she celebrates.” Linking one’s humanity with a plea for prayer and deep worship is central to Azriel’s vision and quest in which, “…And there are the truly righteous…Their soul becomes a mirror they hold up/To God, reflecting His face,/To God, the soul of the world.” The beautiful sonnets and free verse of Beads are a wonderful starting point for Torah study, repentance, and true worship.
Deborah Schoeneman, is a former English teacher/Writing Across the Curriculum Center Coordinator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and coeditor of Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, published in 1997.