Lea or Leah Goldberg was born to a Jewish-Lithuanian family living in Kaunas (Kovno). At the start of World War I, they fled to Russia, where they spent a year under difficult conditions. When the family tried to return to Lithuania in 1919, a border patrol accused Lea's father of being a spy. The guards locked him in a nearby abandoned stable and threatened him with execution every morning for about a week. When he was finally released, his mental state was precarious. He eventually lost his ability to function normally and left his family to receive treatment, though it is unclear what happened to him afterwards. Lea and her mother Tsila Goldberg became very close and lived together until her death.
Lea's parents spoke several European languages, and Lea learned these as well as Hebrew at a very young age as she received her elementary education in a Jewish Hebrew-speaking school. She began keeping a diary in Hebrew at age 10 and continued to write in that language. She received a PhD from the Universities of Berlin and Bonn in Semitic languages and German. In 1935, Lea emigrated with her mother to the British Mandate of Palestine, settling in Tel Aviv, where she joined a group of Zionist poets of Eastern-European origin known as Yakhdav (Together). Lea worked as a high-school teacher and wrote for the Hebrew newspapers Davar and Al HaMishmar, including the children's magazine Mishmar L'yladim. She later worked as a literary adviser to Habimah, the Israeli national theater, and an editor for the publishing company Sifriyat Ha-Poalim.
She became an accomplished translator of the works of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Petrarch, Ibsen, and many others. She also wrote original works, including novels, poems, reference books and works for children. Many of her poems were set to music. She was awarded the Israel Prize posthumously in 1970.
In 1954, she became a lecturer in literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was later named head of the university's Department of Comparative Literature.