Leonard Cohen

Unlike Bob Dylan who at some time in his life was a believer in Yeshua, I am not aware that Leonard Cohen at any time believed in Jesus. And I in no way want to suggest that he did. In fact, he was a Buddhist monk for a number of years, and perhaps retained those beliefs throughout his life. Yet, last week he was buried with Jewish rites in Montreal, interred in his family plot, making it seemingly safe to conclude Leonard Cohen died as a Jew at some level that was comfortable for him given his last wishes.

Only since his death have I familiarized myself with him as a person and as a poet/singer songwriter beyond his famous “Hallelujah”. I accidentally stumbled upon his most recent album, “You Want It Darker”, released presumably intentionally during the High Holy Days last month. I know Leonard Cohen was a religious seeker which birthed the angst in his writing and fueled his creativity. But what struck me so deeply in listening to song after song on his last album were the many allusions to Yeshua and sadly, his lack of spiritual peace. To me, it seemed that this Jewish man, during these last days where he in one song pleads “hineni”, “here I am”, is wishing Yeshua was who He said He was. He expressed belief during his life of the unique nature of Yeshua as a man. Yet his lyrics suggest a yearning to understand more of He who we know as the Messiah.

In my pre Messianic Jewish world, it was not my experience that Jews are comfortable openly seeking to dialogue about Yeshua for to do so would place oneself into another religion, Christianity, in traditional Jewish thinking. It’s safer in the Jewish mindset for a Jew to seek Buddha for Jewbus are still Jews. It is for this reason that Messianic Judaism is a blessing beyond words, a real option unknown to the majority of Jewish people.

Thus, my shock at Leonard Cohen’s most recent songs with such provocative lyrics, a funereal dirge in many respects performed with his Orthodox synagogue’s choir and gifted cantor featured in some of the music. Granted, my filter is as skewed as they get on this topic, so I’ll let you decide for yourself from these excerpts from Leonard Cohen’s newest album “You Want It Darker”:

“It Seemed The Better Way”
It seemed the better way
When first I heard him speak
Now it’s much too late
To turn the other cheek

Sounded like the truth
Seemed the better way
Sounded like the truth
But it’s not the truth today

I wonder what it was
I wonder what it meant
First he touched on love
Then he touched on death
. . .

I better hold my tongue
I better take my place
Lift this glass of blood
Try to say the grace
. . .

“You Want It Darker”
If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame
. . .
I’ve seen you change the water into wine
I’ve seen you change it back to water, too
I sit at your table every night
I try but I just don’t get high with you
I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine

Ah, they’re dancing in the street — it’s Jubilee
We sold ourselves for love but now we’re free
I’m so sorry for that ghost I made you be
Only one of us was real and that was me . . .

To all Leonard Cohen fans, I am not suggesting I know anything about Leonard Cohen’s religious beliefs. I am merely seeing in these songs the longing for an understanding of God and the resignation and pain in feeling His absence. I am moved by a Jewish man openly expressing in his final album so many allusions to Yeshua, the Messiah, rather than to “hold my [his] tongue.” And I am looking toward to that day when my Jewish brothers and sisters will no longer experience this longing.

To be sung to the tune of “Hallelujah”:

I know that you’ve been here before,
You stand beside me at the shore,
I love you, I adore you, what’s it to ya?

We walk together hand in hand,
Just one footprint in the sand,
You were, you are, you will be,
My Yeshua,

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelu-u-yah.

(words not by Leonard Cohen)

Shabbat shalom.

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