Danny Siegel

Sergeant Joe Friday’s Torah

If you are younger and don’t watch re-runs, you will need the knowledge of the two Grand Rabbis, Google and IMDb, to explain many of the references in this Dvar Torah.

In the early days of TV – not the early early days, but the years when you still had to get up from the chair or couch to change channels. I was growing up then, and even remember that we had four channels: 4,5,7, and 9.

So let us begin: Way back then, all of my friends and I could practically review minute-by-minute the latest episode of Dragnet, which entered my view of the world when I was seven years old, and continued until I was 15. The hero was Sergeant Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb. I doubt that any of us can recall the plot line of any episode, but two unforgettable things still remain with us. Friday’s line whenever he was interviewing or interrogating someone was always – “Just the facts, Ma’am”, and the greatest poker face in all of television or movie history. His facial expression seemed to clearly say — whether it was a robbery, a murder, or even a more heinous felony, “I’m just doing my job.”

I think that is true of all the others I mention below. A few said it explicitly, but it was implicit in everyone’s actions.

Nevertheless, for all the centrality of Dragnet in my childhood, my young life was really filled with cowboys and their wives and sidekicks.

Lost now like my baseball cards, is the picture of me as a five or six-year old, standing in back of the house dressed in full cowboy regalia. My first exposure to classical music was Rossini’s William Tell Overture, because, as the first images of the Lone Ranger came on the screen, it was the background music. Other than his truly vast storehouse of acts of Tikkun Olam, the other thing that really sticks out in my mind is that the word “yesteryear” – as in “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear” — never appears in any other written thing I have read. The voiceover recited these words we all memorized to introduce the latest episode in the adventures of The Masked Mitzvah Man.

There were Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry (I’m back in the saddle again, Out where a friend is a friend – [no doubt en route to a Mitzvah]) back then, and, of course, Roy Rogers (“The Singing Cowboy”, Happy Trails To You,) and Dale Evans. Nowadays in my 70’s, it’s no longer strange to me that I sometimes can’t immediately remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember Dale’s horse’s name – Buttermilk. The same goes for Sky King’s Cessna which he used to get to wherever Tzedek was being trampled. It was The Songbird.

For many, it was the days of the Good Guys wearing white hats, and the Bad Guys wearing black one.

Of the original Hawaii 5-0 there are a couple of things: (1) Jack Lord’s Detective Captain Steve McGarrett, had the bonus of not having to track the Bad Guys through the grungy streets of New York because Paradise was his turf; (2) I was in Israel during the Yom Kippur War and after a few hours delivering mail (filling in for someone on reserve duty), I’d turn on the TV. I am absolutely positive that Hawaii 5-0 was on the Turkish channel, though I don’t remember if there were subtitles in Hebrew, (3) at some point I still want to visit an Oahu  shrine – Jack Lord’s house.

Now, I am not minimizing individuals who take on the task of huge Tikkun Olam. After all, I lived through the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movements. And decades later we witnessed the release of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, both unimaginable when those movements began. The pioneers of those radical changes are, for the most part, beyond us.

Nor is this a Dvar Torah about the subject of the Book of Job or why there are human beings who are monsters who murder senselessly on a “small scale” or in incomprehensive masses.

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This is about the pintele Yid, the everyday Jew, i.e., just you and me, the one who prepares the food for Shiva houses, gives his or her appropriate portion of money Tzedakah, who speaks out against the New anti-Semitism, who shleps the family to Israel for a bat Mitzvah instead of having an elaborate party, who is “on call” when the rabbi or educator needs something done, who makes the tables at the shul’s Kiddush especially beautiful, who bakes Challahs for couples grown to frail to bake their own.

Some of us remember that, before the folks he helped or rescued could thank him, The Lone Ranger had already ridden out of town on his glorious steed Silver. Many episodes ended with them say, “Who was that masked man?” He was only doing his job.

The phrase that kept coming to mind as I began thinking about this Dvar Torah is from Pirkay Avot, Chapter two. And even though I am taking it out of it’s context of Torah study, I believe it still applies  “It was for this reason you were given the gift of life.”

It appears to me that the Torah of Hoppy, Roy, Dale, Gene Autry, Steve McGarrett, Sergeant Joe Friday, and others I may not have mentioned, is simply this: That as we live a life of Tzedakah / Gemillut Chassadim / Mitzvahs / Tikkun Olam, we should think, “I’m only doing my job.”

Having done a job of Our Job, each of us chooses, within the wide range of our TV Rebbis, what fits our own nature — either Joe Friday’s poker face, Gene Autry’s singing, or the Lone Ranger astride his magnificent white palomino Silver rearing on his hind legs, urging him on to the next Mitzvah, reciting the memorable, “Hi-yo, Silver, Away!”

About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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