One of the gifts I receive as a rabbi is to live and work with the full spectrum of humanity. In the morning, I play with toddlers on the floor and by noon I’m teaching a class to retirees. In the afternoon, I’m with adolescents teaching prayers or ethics, and in the evening I’m having a drink with young professionals. That’s just my Tuesday. There’s a real privilege I feel in experiencing the entire range of human experience on an almost daily basis. I see joy and pain. I see triumph and failure. I see spring awakenings and autumnal enervation. We live all at once, simultaneously careening into and out of life. Even in maturity life is inchoate. Emerging. Evolving. Becoming. It is a gift to see and feel the emotional and spiritual tapestry that make up the whole of life.
Rabbi Noah Farkas's blog
This past weekend I performed a wedding at the most amazing mansion I’ve ever seen. From the very top of Malibu I saw the mountains and rolling hills and the mists upon the sea. The wedding ceremony itself was on the house’s helipad - because Malibu. This being Los Angeles, I heard that movies had been filmed there. I’m not going to lie, it was stunning.
The wedding couple was so much fun to be with, and their family and friends were just lovely. But this wasn’t their house. They were renting the place for the wedding and the owners were nowhere to be seen...
Hate is like a drug. It makes those who hate feel good because it gives them an escape from their own problems for a little while. You can get high on hate. Hating another person gives you power. You can take back what you thought you’ve lost.
You can own someone because you feel owned.
You can troll so you don’t feel out of control.
It is a drug. You can get high on hate...
Life blooms in an unending eruption of breath and color. At the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, there are little bacteria that cling to the vents in the earth’s crust. Scraping the edge of space in the stratopause there are tiny little fungi that float around. There is a pulse for life in every place where it can exist - it emerges into existence. Life is eruption. Life erupts...
As a rabbi, I have the honor to work closely with people experiencing homelessness. One of the advocates that I know, let’s call her Tanya, tells me that the worst part of her time being homeless was her alienation and loneliness. She was ashamed of her situation and felt she let down others in her life. When she sat day-after-day on the streets, she felt she lived with an invisible wall between her and the rest of the world. It was like she was in solitary confinement right there on the street corner. No one would look at her or speak to her. said she would go weeks without ever hearing someone call her name.
The other night I was speaking at a Teach-in for a progressive Zionist organization called Zioness. (Full disclosure, I am a founding board member). I had the honor to sit next to Emiliana Guereca, Founder and Executive Director of Women’s March Los Angeles and a dynamic speaker. Towards the end of the evening, a young participant asked us, “What is the use of protesting? I mean, it’s a lot of work to get downtown with all those people. What does it get us anyway, how much has really changed?”
What will be our legacy? Every generation asks itself these questions. It’s part of aging through life where we look to bridge past and future. Legacy gives us a sense that our life is worthwhile. It gives us the basis to believe that all our struggles and decisions in life can be framed in a way that can live on after us.
It gives us a chance at immortality.
These past several weeks we have seen so much tragedy in my community. From the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, to another shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill, to the raging fires across California. In my community alone, some 250,000 people have been displaced and hundreds of homes have been destroyed. Notably centers of our Jewish community like JCA Shalom, the Wilshire Blvd Camps, and Ilan Ramon Day School all suffered critical damage.
Last Sunday we launched our mental health initiative called “So Healthy Together.” Over two hundred people came from all over the city to share their stories and learn from experts. What I learned from our launch was that community is the most important aspect to helping prevent tragic loss like suicide to mental illness and to help survivors heal. The world is a lonely place and is only getting lonelier.
For the past ten years I have lead a physician's talmud study group called Dinner for Docs. We meet about once a quarter, have some wine and eat a nice dinner. Then we engage in Talmud study. It was there that I really got to know Dr. Joe Beezy. He’s sitting right over there. Joe and I became friends over a page of Talmud, so much so that he asked me to perform the marriage of his daughter, Talya, to wonderful man named Leonard. Talya, it was such a beautiful day, warm and verdant, your dad played the recorder, remember? It was on that day I met your brother this dashing young man with a huge smile, named Ben.
It was once said that Judaism is a tradition of minimum text and maximal interpretation. Take these three words from the book of Leviticus “V'ahavtah l'rechah kamocha” Love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18). How clear can that be? How straight forward? How simple, how universal? “V'ahavtah l'rechah kamocha” Love your neighbor as yourself.
How literal is faith? The other night I was at a shiva minyan and I was asked by one of the family members how could one pray for miracles that don’t not exist? I took a deep breath, knowing that others wanted to speak to me and said that I don’t believe in the supernatural like turning water into blood or splitting the sea, and I’m not sure that God really exists. But my faith and the language of faith is not so literal. The God I believe in is a poem, not an essay. Let me explain.
Invocation for Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel
June 11, 2018
At the end of this week’s Torah portion, Shlach, we find one of the most famous paragraphs of liturgy:
“God spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments for all generations. Let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe: look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them...”
As we close out the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, we can take a moment to reflect on its central theme - holiness. No other book in the Torah focuses as much on the idea of becoming holy as this priestley book. The reason d'etre of being an Israelite is found in the pasuk, “You shall be holy because I, the LORD am Holy” (Lev.19:2)
Invocation at the National Day of Prayer
May 3, 2018
Today is Lag B’Omer the thirty-third day of the great ingathering of the barley harvest. Today we stand between Exodus and Sinai we mark our pathway between the splitting of sea and the holy mountain. We celebrate by lighting bonfires, but I asked the mayor if I could light one here in this tent. He said, “No” But, as we in our tradition light up the world we come here this morning to do the same. And so good morning to all of you.
“What is that?” I asked Karen our tour guide, “That person is called a Brocha!” she said. “That’s a crazy job!”
Staring out my bus window in the middle of Guatemala I could hardly comprehend the scene playing out before me. We were moving in traffic at 40 miles an hour or so and off to the side was a bus very different than our travel coach, slowing to near stop on the side of the road. Except, where our nicely appointed tour bus was tall with plush seats, I was staring at a converted school bus, not unlike the ones I used to take to school as a child. This school bus, which might have ferried school children in the U.S. some years ago was now painted over in wild colors.
What will be our legacy? Every generation asks itself these questions. It’s part of aging through life where we look to bridge past and future. Legacy gives us a sense that our life is worthwhile. It gives us the basis to believe that all our struggles and decisions in life, can be framed in a way that can live on after us. It gives us a chance at immortality. The book of Genesis ends with a meditation on legacy. We find the children of Jacob a living quite well under the rule the Pharaoh. As father Jacob becomes conscious of his own impending death he gathers together his family to share with them words of blessing. He wants to set his affairs in order – to shape his legacy – for each of his children. He calls them forth and musters what prophetic strength he has saying, “Come together, that I may tell you what is to befall you in the days to come.” (Gen. 49:1)
When I go to a house of mourning and sit with the bereaved I often think to myself, “What is the right thing to say?””How can I take their pain away?” I’m sure many of us ask ourselves these same questions. Often, however, when we try to explain our way out of suffering we cause more pain even if we never intend to do so. In fact, many of the theological reasons that try to explain suffering in the world do exactly that.
To my dearest children,
There comes a time in every family’s life where the playthings and the good times must be put on hold for a short time so some serious words can be said. There comes a time in every Jewish family where parents have to sit down with their children and speak of what it means to be a Jew in a Gentile world. My parents sat me down to have this talk as did their parents before them and theirs before them. I wish I would never have to, but now is the time to speak of what has unfortunately become, in the case of the Jewish People, an eternal truth.
This summer like many American families, we packed up our gear, kicked the tires and hit the road. My family and I went on a 3,500 mile road trip across seven states camping, hiking, floating and spelunking our way through national parks and monuments. In the early morning we woke our children and placed them gingerly in the overladen minivan. We had a plan: out by six, arrive by three; make camp, eat dinner, sing songs, make a fire; off to bed and wake to hiking. We were focused and excited.
Published June 13, 2017, Jewish Journal
Like many others, I read Rabbi David Wolpe’s op-ed on politics and the pulpit with a sense of profound ambivalence (“Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit,” June 9). I found myself caught between ovation and objection.
The ancient rabbis begin in a similar place. Religion has no place in the public square because the town center is full of sin, it is depraved and consumed with self-interested politicians. “Be wary of the government, for they befriend no one unless it is out of self interest.” (Pirkei Avot 2:3).
“These are the times that are called holy” Leviticus 23:2
There was an economic survey back in the 1970s that asked a series of questions that can be boiled down to the inquiry, “are you happy?” The economists behind the survey wanted to know-- in a long period of economic growth where incomes were rising and debts falling-- did having more money in your pocket made you happier. Questionnaires of this sort have been repeated many times. The results of the survey were...
Published by the Jewish Journal, April 26, 2017
Published by the Jewish Journal, April 5, 2017
This past week, Rabbi Hoffman, Cantor Baron and I led a very large delegation to Washington DC for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. With 18,000 delegates in attendance from over 50 countries around the world, it was the largest-ever gathering of Israel supporters in history. For three days, we learned together and celebrated Israel together.
Right now, there is a viral video making its way across the internet of the Alt-right leader, Richard Spencer getting clocked by an unknown assailant. Spencer has been denying the Holocaust, rousing xenophobia, and hosting rallies in conferences which include Nazi-era salutes. Spencer says he is not a Nazi, yet his choosing to fashion himself on the model of early twentieth century German iconography, paired with a lapel pin that is a common anti-Semitic cartoon character belies his crocodile tears telling and reveals his true nature as an anti-Semite.
This year for the first time in decades, the calendar has coincidentally packed together four holiday traditions into one symbol-laden week. The first night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas. A day later the African-American spiritual celebration of Kwanza began. The last night of Hanukkah is joined by the celebration of New Year’s Eve. Each of these Holidays, celebrated distinctly, teaches part of the particular human condition, be it the story of the Maccabees and their heroism or the birth of Jesus, every holiday has a story or stories.
The Torah can certainly be a confusing text. One can even say that entire project of Judaism is staked on this claim. It is up to the king, the prophet, or rabbi in their generation to disentangle the many threads of the Torah's wisdom and make them intelligible to their community.