A Tribute to Leonard Cohen

A Tribute to Leonard Cohen: In Search of the Light

The Canadian poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen passed away on November 7, 2016. Since my youth, I have read and listened to his works, which have brought me numerous moments of joy, insight, glimpses of beauty, and countless humming sessions. His words always resonated with me, particularly the sentiment of longing that he captured so poignantly. His poetry had a way of making me feel as if he were speaking directly to me, conveying a sense of openness and vulnerability.

In the early years, Cohen’s works often explored themes of rejection and love, delving into the complexities of human relationships. As time went on, his focus shifted to encompass long-standing depression and his personal journey of faith, which drew from both his Jewish heritage and his Buddhist practice. In his later years, his poetry took on a contemplative tone, addressing the inevitability of mortality with a profound appreciation for beauty.

Throughout his career, Cohen’s distinctive, deep, and battle-grizzled vocals served as a powerful vessel for his lyrics. Despite his success, he remained humble, which added to his aura as an oracle of sorts. This sentiment is captured in a photo I took last year in Montreal, where his fresco adorns the downtown area, featuring his enigmatic smile and reminding us of his enduring presence.

He was awarded many nicknames; each deserves a paragraph or a book of interpretation. Some of my favorites are Poet of Existential Despair, Ladies Man, Troubadour of Love, The Man in a Suit, Jeremiah Of Tin Pan Alley, Poetic Playboy, Restless Pilgrim, and Coolest White Man on The Planet.

Cohen’s most famous song is “Hallelujah,” covered hundreds of times; my favorite is that of Jeff Buckley. The poem is about King David’s anguish as he contemplates the beauty of the forbidden Bathsheba.

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord,

That David played, and it pleased the Lord,

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

Another of Cohen’s well-known songs is “Who by Fire,” which is an adaptation of a Jewish central High Holiday prayer, “Unetaneh Tokef,” which means “We shall ascribe holiness to this day.” In my spiritual community, Nashuva, the lead guitarist of our band, weaves a beautiful riff of this poem into the prayer. It describes the various ways people will live, die, succeed, and suffer over the coming year.

And who by fire, who by water,

who in the sunshine, who in the nighttime,

who by high ordeal, who by common trial,

who in your merry, merry month of May,

who by very slow decay,

and who shall I say is calling?

Cohen explores death in its many forms, perhaps as part of his personal spiritual journey. Instead of the fear of dying, Cohen writes an intimate contemplation around the concept of death. In various spiritual traditions, including the Muslim Sufis and the Tibetan Buddhists, preparing for death is a first-rate spiritual practice that raises one’s consciousness to higher levels.

Perhaps the greatest verse in Cohen’s career is “Anthem,” one of folk music’s most comforting ever.

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering,

There is a crack, a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in,

Cohen reminds us that no matter how bleak and depressing the world may seem at any given moment, there is always room for light; there is still a silver lining.

A lesser-known but powerful poem is “All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann.” In the aftermath of Eichmann’s trial, many wondered whether the Nazis were human beings like us. Leonard Cohen reflects on our need to mark evil and identify it with external signs.









What did you expect?


Oversize incisors?

Green saliva?


For me this poem flows much better in Hebrew, so here it is:

עיניים… בינוניות

שיער… בינוני

משקל… בינוני

גובה… בינוני

סימנים מיוחדים… אין

מספר האצבעות… עשר

רמת משכל… בינונית

למה ציפית?


שיניים תוחנות בגודל ענק?

רוק ירוק?


לאונרד כהן, “כל מה שיש לדעת על אדולף אייכמן”, תרגום: צביה גינור, מתוך: פרחים להיטלר

May his soul rest in peace.

November 2019