A Life of Legacy

3 04 2017

COhen face

4 April 2017

Recently, I attended a presentation at the Mercy Center in Madison, CT, by Rabbi Daniel Cohen from Stamford. His focus was on how to create a life of legacy, one that would be remembered positively by others. He used a process he called Reverse Engineering: decide why you are here and lead the life now in the way you want to be remembered.

What would that type of life look like? What are some of Cohen’s guiding suggestions?

Live a life of Radical Amazement. This, defined by Abraham Joshua Heschel, is to: “get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” This highlights the sanctity and importance of every moment. Appreciate that every day, every hour is a blessing. Live inspired.

Do it now. Cohen cites a line from the Ethics of Our Fathers (a compilation of rabbinical teachers from the third century): If not now, when?

 Cohen book

Bring your piece of light to your actions. We each have the opportunity to make an indelible impact on another person by being at the right place and the right time and doing the right thing. Cohen calls this “the Elijah moment,” based on the Prophet Elijah who was considered a helper when in distress. Cohen’s Elijah moment is a peak instant when we felt touched by the hand of God to do a particular action. In that way, we have acted as God’s agents, partners in bringing acts of kindness to the moment. At these times, two souls connect to transform that instant into an eternal moment to significantly change that person’s life and our own. We need to understand our holy mission, that no encounter is random, no meeting is coincidental.

Cohen also emphasized that every decision we make counts and needs to be based on our principles. Authentic choices are courageous, while compromise can detract from our principles.

See the Elijah in everyone. Cohen encouraged the audience to remember the importance of appreciating the infinite potential and capacity in every human being. It is our task to see everyone as a potential Elijah.

In summary, Cohen suggests our ripples of kindness extend beyond that particular moment. Every obstacle is opportunity for growth. He quotes Mark Twain: “The two most important days of your life? The day you were born, and the day you understand why.” When we are the Elijah, and see the Elijah in others, we will make bigger impact, we will live inspired lives and enrich our families. And we will know we can be remembered. We will be living a Life of Legacy.


My cousin is researching the motivation behind a large number of this country’s leading Buddhists coming from Jewish backgrounds. For me, Rabbi Cohen has shed some light on this question in reframing traditional Hebrew texts in current-day language. Using the need to be present, pay it forward, and perform random acts of kindness, Cohen has matched modern terms with ancient spiritual traditions of both Judaism and Buddhism. Perhaps it’s the similar basic underpinnings that allow many of these modern Jews to be attracted to the Buddhist principles.



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