Rabbi Daniel Cohen came to understand the fragile nature of life when he lost his mother to a brain aneurysm when she was just 44 years old. This experience, though devastating, moved him to dedicate his life to motivating others, both as a rabbi and mentor.
“That brush with mortality shook me and really helped me realize, in a very deep way, that life can change in an instant,” he said. “We have to do our best to realize our potential every day and really try to spread as much light as we can in every opportunity that we have. That really was a strong personal motivator for me to write my book and continue to speak all over about how we lead lives of legacy.”
At 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, in the Hall of Philosophy, Cohen will deliver his lecture, “Leading a Life of Legacy: Finding Mission and Meaning in Every Moment,” as part of the Week Six interfaith theme, “The Spirituality of Work.” Cohen, co-host of the radio show “The Rabbi and the Reverend,” will use what is described on his website as a “unique blend of wisdom and spiritual insight” to inform his lecture.
As author of What Will They Say about You When You’re Gone? 7 Principles for Reverse Engineering Your Life, Cohen has explored how humans often fail to appreciate their potential by defining their worth based on labor.
“Often times, people define themselves and define others by what they do, not necessarily what they are,” he said. “The more that we’re conscious of the special gifts that we have and unique opportunities we have every day, the more that those interactions become eternal.”
Cohen said the modern definition of work suggests a definitive “end,” implying that once a person can no longer work, their life has no purpose.
“There’s no such thing as retirement,” he said. “We may retire from our jobs, but we don’t retire from life. The more we can reorient ourselves to that perspective, the more that our lives will be meaningful.”
As senior rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Connecticut, the largest modern orthodox synagogue in New England, Cohen said he often helps people in moments of crisis, which is a significant responsibility. To effectively act as both a mentor and spiritual guide, he said he channels courage and confidence through God.
“I pray and I ask for God’s strength three times a day,” he said. “The truth is that I am renewed in my strength because if I thought it was all about me, I would grow tired. I know God’s strength is eternal and that flows through me, and hopefully it flows through others as well. It’s not about us — it’s about a higher service and purpose.”
Though he practices Modern Orthodox Judaism, Cohen said his duties are all-encompassing, and he strives to communicate his message to people of all faith traditions.
“I am a Modern Orthodox rabbi, but I consider myself a rabbi for the people,” he said. “I speak to people of all faiths because I believe every human being is created with a spark of the divine in God’s image. We all want to have a sense of meaning in this world, and the truth is that everybody has that inside of them.”