At the finale of the Torah we read, “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah…and the Lord showed him all the land…” (34:1) Pisgah was the specific name for a series of mountain ranges in the high plateau of Moab. Elsewhere these ranges are designated by the more general name, “Har hevarim,” i.e. “the mountain of the regions beyond.” This appellation points to the fact that climbing Pisgah is essentially about going to the place where one passes on to the next region, the next phase, of one’s journey. This climb is not necessarily about Moses’ end, or even the Torah’s end, but about seeing ‘beyond,’ to the next step of the journey, for Moses and for Israel. The lesson of Pisgah is that of seeing into what lies beyond.
Likewise, Pisgah can be seen as the archetypal vantage point from which the Land of Israel is to be viewed. Surely then it can be instructive for how we today view the Land of Israel. Just look at one of the central images of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Israelis take to the streets with clamoring celebration. A central ritual of the holiday is to roam the streets toting little rubber hammers with which to hit one''s fellow revelers. These hammers are really quite symbolic of one of Yom Ha''azmaut''s most poignant themes. On the one hand we feel the joy of finally establishing a Jewish state; of finally reaching one of the long awaited apexes of Jewish history. And yet, we are simultaneously aware of how far we as a people have yet to climb, how much work we have yet to do. And thus we take out our little rubber hammers and bang away; celebrating the great accomplishments of the building of the Jewish State, yet all the while hammering for greater and greater improvement. Site still under construction. Perhaps Moses felt a similar sentiment as he gazed out on the Land so long ago. This poem tries to capture that feeling of arrival and the quest for reaching yet beyond.
Long I climbed
With this peak in mind
Watched it through my hair and sweat
Felt it in my calves and neck
my troubled but determined breath
grew short and tripped
my chapped lips bled
though body drag
and bloated limb
Attended me in every lift
I bared the wind
As if it was the breathe of God
Upon my neck
And when the path had long turned rock
no longer leaves
but granite block
alone, but for a hoary hawk
aloft above my sleeve
- I stopped
And through the blur of that exhaust
I saw the summit
Long I’d sought
And how I heaved
my body up
to palm the peak
- my summit touched!
and thus I ceased
to celebrate
this vaulted vista
vantage gate
triumphantly as Everest,
as Hillary,
and the nameless rest
drunk on prophecy come true
that one could claim such altitudes
and breathed I deep indeed
my feat
….but brief
for at my back, the hawk did screech
a blade to beckon dare I breach
beyond success
and shallow beach
beyond the patch of skin and stone
that I named "apex"
from below
though climbing had been courage clawed
my findings now
made me give pause
for now from high sight
- rearranged
perspective caught
a vaster mountain range
not conquered yet
this stump, no steep
but higher still
its reign did reach
a gasp or two
to realize
the throng of peaks
stretched ‘fore my eyes
each greater grander than the last
a string of studs
along earth’s back
and in that instant
learned I the law
as sure as gravity and awe
Imbibed the truth each climber must:
Tuesday’s peak
Is Wednesday’s dust.


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