In the eyes of a Hollywood studio executive, David Sacks is an award-winning screenwriter. But in the eyes of observant Jews, he is an inspirational talmid chamam, a learned Torah scholar.
A native New Yorker, Sacks arrived in Hollywood more than 20 years ago with a degree in government from Harvard College, where he began his comedy writing career as editor of the school’s legendary humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon. As a screenwriter, Sacks has worked on a host of TV shows, including Comedy Central’s “Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil” and FOX’s “Malcolm in the Middle.”
He landed an Emmy Award for his work on “The Simpsons” and a Golden Globe Award for “Third Rock from the Sun.” Currently, he serves as executive producer for a new animated show for Nickelodeon called “Pig Goat Banana Cricket.”
Illustrated by indie artists, the show debuted this July. It features the adventures of a friendly foursome. These oddball roommates reside in a treehouse atop the fantastical Boopelite City, where nearly everything comes to life.
Sacks himself is a resident of Beverly Hills with his wife and children, and the co-founder and senior lecturer of The Happy Minyan, LA’s most celebrated Carlebach minyan. He also hosts a weekly podcast called Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World.
With both the High Holidays and the Emmys looming ahead, Sacks shared both some of his favorite teachings and the road that led him there with The Times of Israel.
You don’t come from a show biz family or a long line of Torah scholars. How did your parents influence you?
My parents were awesome. My father was a psychologist who had an amazing love for people. He taught me from the time I was a child what he understood about human nature, and how to approach both life and other people with balance, compassion and respect. My mother was a dynamo, always moving and caring for others. She got her PhD from Columbia University at the age of 65 while working full-time. She also had a wonderful eccentric sense of humor. I believe I got mine from her.
What were your mother’s parting words to you each day?
“If you think you are beaten you are. If you think you dare not, you don’t. If you would like to win but think you can’t, it’s almost a cinch that you won’t. You’ve got to think high to rise. Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins, is the man who thinks he can.”
How did your early education impact your work?
‘Being exposed to a wide swath of humanity from an early age, influenced me, I think, to take all the Torah I learn and try to apply it in the most expansive way’
I went to public school in New York City during the 1960s and 1970s before the city became gentrified. My classmates were a mix of white, Jewish and non-Jewish, African American and Puerto Rican. Being exposed to a wide swath of humanity from an early age, influenced me, I think, to take all the Torah I learn and try to apply it in the most expansive way… to understand always that Hashem is not just the God of Israel but the Creator of all people and that we are all His children.
What is a core Torah teaching that has transformed you?
I once heard Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach say, that people intuitively understand how far away Hashem is. The greatest Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s name, is communicating how close He is to us at all times. That teaching changed my life.
It means that, Hashem is right here, right now. He knows who you are and he loves you like crazy, and that is the essential reality of existence.
At the Happy Minyan in Los Angeles, you’ve shared a playful but pivotal teaching about fish chatting. Could you share that here with The Times of Israel?
Sure. I once imagined a conversation between two fish. One fish says to the other, “Do you believe in water?”
The other fish says, “I don’t know if I believe in water. My grandfather was very religious; he believed in water.” What’s the joke? The only thing that exists is water — and yet because it all pervasive they can’t even see it!
That’s us and God. We are literally immersed in Godliness. I was once having lunch with a friend. I asked him where he parked his car. He said, “Across the street.” I said, “Do you realize you can’t get to it without swimming through Godliness?” All we have to do is open our eyes to see it.
How would you suggest one connect more deeply to the Divine?
‘God is not one thing on a list of things that exist — like: “There are pencils, and cupcakes, and trees, and God, and rubber-bands”‘
The first thing I’d say is that we have to stop thinking of God as a “concept.” God is not one thing on a list of things that exist — like: “There are pencils, and cupcakes, and trees, and God, and rubber-bands.”
Rather, God is all there is. Everything exists within God. And the more we realize we’re in a constant interface with Him, the more we can begin to do what we actually need to do in this world.
What role do you believe mitzvot play in that process?
They liberate us, and hone the relationship between us and the Infinite. They make everything real, and concretize our access point with the Divine.
Do you experience a disconnect between prayer, Torah study and observance of Shabbat and holidays, and so on, and your work or everyday life?
I try to keep in mind that since God is everywhere at all times, there is no such thing as a secular moment. Everything, even the most seemingly mundane thing in the world, has sparks of holiness that can be elevated, and the greatness of Torah is that is teaches us how to do it!
What is an accessible way to enhance one’s spirituality or wonder in creation?
The first thing is that we have to stop doing is what I call “bad math.” We think that God exists to the extent that we believe in Him. God exists whether we believe in Him or not. But to really see that we have to look deeper. I heard from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, that in this day and age, it’s a criminal offense to be superficial.
‘The fact that there is even a world at all is endlessly mind blowing’
The fact that there is even a world at all is endlessly mind blowing. Let’s start there. Why is there a world and what am I supposed to do in it?
As Jews we have an obligation to investigate what we believe about this subject and once we get into it, the teachings are so deep and sweet that I, for one, can never stop wanting to know more.
Someone defined genius as the ability to see what’s actually there. To see the miracle of reality. We can all be geniuses.
Could you expound on the concept of hitboddedut, privately conversing with the Divine?
Sure, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that it’s essential to talk to God like He’s your best friend. It makes God “real” and when you take that approach, it makes it so much easier to connect at any moment. If you want to understand the necessity of talking to God, imagine you’re married for 25 years, and someone asks you how often you talk to your wife and you say, “never, ever.” Yet, you claim to have an excellent relationship. This is clearly absurd. It’s no different in our relationship with God.
Life is an ongoing conversation with God. So the question is, since we’re already saying something with our lives, what do we want to be saying?
How are we impacted by living in the “Information Age?”
We certainly know more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting smarter. Look at it this way. Imagine there’s a man who is at his wedding. And he can tell you everything about it. How many tables of guests there are, who is seated at each table, how much the flowers cost, and the price of the band. He even knows exactly when he has to be out of the wedding hall. Then he turns to you and says, there’s only one thing I don’t know. “Which one of these people did I marry?”
It’s beyond heartbreaking. He knows absolutely everything except the one thing he needs to know. This is the world today. People can tell you everything about everything. But the one reality of the world, the fact that there is a God who created us, and sustains us, and loves us, and who is so close at all times, this they don’t know.
How do you resolve the heartache and pain of the world with the beauty and majesty of creation?
Everybody, whether they articulate it or not, has the same question: If there’s a God, and even more so, if there’s a God who loves us, then why is the world so messed up? Believe it or not, there’s a very simple answer. It’s because the world isn’t finished yet.
‘If there’s a God who loves us, then why is the world so messed up? Believe it or not, there’s a very simple answer. It’s because the world isn’t finished yet’
Imagine you walk into the kitchen, and there’s a bowl of brownie mix with a cracked egg on top. You dip you fingers in the raw egg and the mix and put it in your mouth, and you say, “These brownies are terrible!” And the person says back, “They aren’t finished yet!”
Just like the brownies, the world is not finished yet, and that’s why we’re here. God made us His partners to finish the world. And to do that with the Torah and mitzvot and acts of love and kindness.
No matter what things looks like outside your window, Mashiach [the Messiah] can come at any moment. That’s because all the goodness that our ancestors put into the world since the beginning of time is cumulative. None of it ever went away, and it just keeps building and building.