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What I Learned From Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen

What I Learned From Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen


Dear Friend,

Much of my adolescence revolved around playing guitar and singing the songs of two nice Jewish boys—Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I suppose it’s inevitable that their influence should be somewhere in my writing now.

So when Dylan recently snatched a Nobel Prize and Cohen passed on just within walking distance of my home, there was memory, there was introspection. I had to learn something from that past of mine that they had filled.

Here’s what they told me: That with a few strums on the guitar and lyrics from the heart you have the power to move mountains. You can change the way a generation thinks. You can change the soul of a nation.

And if a guitar and a raspy voice can accomplish that, maybe we should start believing that yet more change comes from within our own homes, our own communities, our own selves.

That all it takes is a family where peace dwells on Friday night, a community where people know each other’s joys and sorrows and come running to help, and a heart that says hineini—I’m here to serve,

And we can have a new world.

Hey people! Write to me! What did you do today to change your world today?

Tzvi Freeman
on behalf of the Team

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Hanalah Houston, Tx February 10, 2017

I wrote about the Jewishness of Leonard Cohen. I hope to publish it.

I said he had two songs which are the heart of his teachings.

One is this:

There is a crack, a crack in everything--
That's how the light gets in.

I see this as a reference to the Holy Sparks hidden throughout physicality.

The other is this:

Hineni. Here I stand, ready to serve.

Everything else in his songs supports these two. Reply

M. Diane Flushing, NY February 8, 2017

But the 'not good' things.... could be explained and we might be able to see the benefit of them more clearly if our life spans were longer than 100 years or so. Then our ability to 'see' over longer spans of time passing would be possible. We might realize the benefit of that flood or epidemic or drought, tsunamis. Even monster dictators and horrible kings, i guess. So it is not accurate to tell your students that bad things happen 'and that's just the way it is.' Well, yes, that's the way G-d Wills it, but there is a 'good' somewhere in that thing (or will evolve or sprout or result out of that thing) which only 'seems' wholly negative to us in the short term. I wonder how old your students are. It is not intellectually dishonest to believe in things that 'appear' to our limited senses to 'not be.' Air, an aroma, the feeling of infatuation, sadness, longing, Hope, Faith, sense of Justice or Fairness. Reply

Ann Nunes Houston, Tx January 23, 2017

Thank you Zvi. Beautiful as usual. Today I told my students that every human deserves respect, decency, and justice,even those who are physically handicapped or mentally impaired or members of a different race. I also told them that even though I have been told that it is not intellectually honest to believe in Gd if we cannot prove it, and even though none of the "proofs" holds up, I still know that Gd is real, and I feel that I don't need to "prove" it. I also said that bad things happen in this world, like floods and earthquakes, and that's just the way it is. I don't try to explain these bad things, I just do what I can to overcome them or to help those who are suffering. I added that I respect each of them even if they disagree with me.

I love the songs of these two singers, two Jews, who, despite their experiments with other traditions, remained traditionally Jewish at heart, & sang about justice.

Early this morning, as every morning, I said
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לֽפָנֶך
Modah ani lifanekha
Thankful am I before GD.... Reply

Sabrina Berlin, Germany January 18, 2017

our beautiful world Dear Tzvi & friends,
This note about Dylan and Cohen continued to resonate with me long after I closed your missive - so I knew it was time to write. Being raised singing folk songs around the fire, and nurtured on all the powerful goodness of these and other singers, poets, civil rights activists - I am now drawn to meet you in this circle of hands joined together to celebrate the import of their life work! Nothing feels more meaningful to me than the communications of those who applied the wisdom of freedom and beauty to the cause of peace. Pete Seeger lived in that light, too. Thank you for writing about it here, for sharing your experience following in the footsteps of these masters of language and passion. My walk through the forest this morning to take my daughter to preschool here in Germany was graced with Buddhist and Jewish prayer - Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu - and the energy of the trees. A song of power and purpose, to be sure.
Yours truly,
Sabrina Reply

Evelyn Roberts December 16, 2016

Response I love your writings, always. After all, it's about learning from others, whenever possible. For me, helping others means responding vs reacting. A measured thoughtful response, sometimes takes action or non action. Storms require steadiness; as peace gives both silence and joy. Reply

Mike December 13, 2016

Siddur, Shacharit Each morning as I read "I gratefully thank You"מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לֽפָנֶךָ)
I am blessed knowing G-d returns my soul...
what a great way to begin the day! Reply

Anonymous Palisades, NJ December 9, 2016

Thanks Julianne After Shabbat I am going to do like you! But confess! Have you climbed back into/onto your comfy bed yet? Is your face still made up pretty like? This is good advice I can use. Shabbat Shalom Reply

Kreina Staal Chicago December 8, 2016

I was visiting my mother in law when we got caught up at a holiday party in her apartment building. At the party we met a woman who let us know that she too was Jewish. As we talked we found out that she too, like my father in law, had been a hidden child and was baptized at the orphanage her parents left her at during the war, in the hope she would survive the war that way. Well, she is 79 years old now and I spoke to her about lighting Shabbat candles and bringing light into the world, and asked if I could call her to remind her. She agreed and today when we spoke, she got the candlesticks ready, placed candles in them and we went over the blessing to make sure she knows it right, she does! Tomorrow she will light at the correct time and add a mitzvah in this world. Reply

Julieann Hemstret Waco Texas December 6, 2016

what did I do to chang the world today I got out of my much loved bed took a bath washed my hair took great pains to place my make up on dried my hair styled my hair got dressed in comfortable clean well pressed clothes applied my best lipstick looked in the mirror and smiled. I felt strong I felt ready to meet the world with a smile. And I did just that. Reply

Anonymous Scottsdale December 6, 2016

Well I hope I helped a little. I went to some place to give away clothes I never wore. I also has a throw brown color that never used. And suddenly I see this man. I am sure he was homeless. Gave him the throw. I could feel his happiness. That made me happy. And I was very blah and down. It was a little action, but I think I changed something. We can change and help a little with almost nothing.
And yes. Music is great! helps a lot. Reply

Avigayil Landsman NY December 6, 2016

What I have done to change the world is to publish an illustrated book that explores the meanings of the aleph-beit and how to apply their wisdom to daily life. After studying and carefully crafting this project for 20 years. Both Jews and non-Jews relate to the beauty of Torah in this educational yet entertaining work. It is available through Amazon. Reply

sunil subba India December 4, 2016

Like in Bob dylan lyrics,the answer is blowin in the wind and it comes through HaShims wind.Whatever we can do at the moment has made me go through charity.Yesterday,a person wife had expired and it was a month ago and he was still sorrowful and his story of the final moments with his wife was sad.Then the baker told me of his story of his skin disease and how he got cured. Reply

Anonymous Austin December 4, 2016

I think I forgot to say something. I wanted to say that "Hard Rain" could have been "Light Dew" as in when the Moshiach will come. I do not remember if I wrote that or not. Reply

Anonymous Austin December 4, 2016

"A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall" was deep back when it came out and it is even more meaningful to me now. That is what I learned Reply

Helen Dudden Bristol December 4, 2016

I've written comments on disability, I want disability to be nothing that can't be helped. I want large print siddurs and accessible buildings. Reply

Regina Costa Mesa December 4, 2016

Music is important.I bought a guitar for my daughter as a graduation gift. She loves it and had learned 3 songs so far. Music is universal and inspiring and I hope she inspires others with her music... Reply

Miriam AZ December 3, 2016

Thank you for such beautiful inspiration!
I too am an artist. I am blessed to teach Therapeutic Art lessons in various nursing/ care homes. I am privilaged to witness the power of Art in each human being, precious images from deep within each of us that echo our connection to this Earthly realm our souls reside in. This is an enormous population that has heen cast aside, but holds untold treasure within them. Reply

Norah Elkman Melbourne Australia December 3, 2016

We own a shop, and apart from a mezuza on the door we have a picture of the Rebbe on display, and a number of pushkas. A number of Jewish people identify themselves one way or another. A Russian lady started telling me that her husband was very sick ... I asked her if she lights Shabbat candles ... she said not really, not regularly. So I took one of these mivtzoyim Shabbat candle sets and told her to start light candles EVERY Friday afternoon!!! then I gave her one of the Rebbe pictures I get from the Ohel, and showed her the email address and told her to pour out her heart to the Rebbe.
by that stage we both had tears in our eyes, and she promised to light candles and write to the Rebbe.
Hashem Please heal all your children ... physically, emotionally, financially and bring us Mashiach now!!! Reply

Chris Australia December 3, 2016

After some cleaning at home I moved to another corner of the room to do some designing. Simply designing things takes little energy, makes no mess and designs can easily be stored or altered. Also our creativity is exercised with real prospects of fruitful productivity and we are freed from the constraints of surroundings. Only let our trust be in our Creator. Reply

Jennifer heide Mountain Home December 3, 2016

I have reached many hurting people who don't know G-d and have shared my testimony with them. I am no respecter of persons and I help and give to any in need. I am currently looking for work right now as I lost my job due to harassment but I believe G--d will place me where he wants me. I am a public affairs specialist. Please pray for me. Reply

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Tzvi FreemanTzvi Freeman is a senior editor at He is also the author of two volumes of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth -- collections of meditations based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe -- as well as numerous articles and essays on Jewish mysticism, philosophy and practice. He also writes's widely acclaimed Daily Dose of Wisdom, mailed daily to tens of thousands of subscribers. Subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing with the Freeman Files subscription.
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