Beyond Reach

Ha'azinu By :  Barbara Mann Former Chana Kekst Professor of Jewish Literature Posted On Sep 20, 2017 / 5778 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Israel
Attentive the heart. The ear listening:
Is anyone coming?
Every expectation contains
the sadness of Nevo.
One facing the other—two shores
Of a single river.
The rock of fate:
Ever far apart.
Spread your wings. See from afar
There—no one is coming,
To each his own Nevo
In a land of plenty.
Mineged [From afar], Rachel Bluwstein (1890–1931)

In the concluding lines of this week’s parashah, the term mineged (from afar) refers to the geographic fate of Moshe: he may view the Land “from afar” on Mt. Nevo, but will not be allowed to enter it (Deut. 32:52). Rachel’s poem above, titled with this word and written in Tel Aviv in 1930, depicts a situation of existential absence and desire.

Like other Hebrew writers of her generation, Rachel’s decision to write in Hebrew and not in her native tongue—in this case, Russian—was shaped by an ideological commitment to Hebrew as a language of national renaissance. Rachel’s poems are filled with biblical allusions; in this poem, the identification with the biblical figure emerges from a seminal moment of psychological crisis: the abrupt denial of a dream on the brink of its joyous fulfillment.

Some readers understand the poem as referring to the poet’s own life—to the anguish of her illness (tuberculosis), on account of which she was exiled from Kibbutz Degania, and to which she eventually succumbed, in a small, rooftop apartment at the end of Bogroshov Street in Tel Aviv. The final stanza’s appearance on the poet’s gravestone in the Kinneret Cemetery reinforces this poignant, though ultimately limited, reading. The poem itself insists on something both more intensely intimate and infinitely cosmic: everyone is alone with their own Nevo, their own frustrated dream. The compact resonance of the Hebrew delivers a strong blow: ish unevo lo. In this case, the artifact of the poem echoes beyond the poet’s death, casting its shadow-like wings over the vast land before it.