Picket Fences (Rabbi Shalhevet)

Rabbi Jaimee ShalhevetA television series titled Picket Fences ran on CBS from 1992-1996. David E. Kelly, producer and writer of Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, The Practice and others also created this one. Mr. Kelly writes wonderful dialogue with intelligent banter and entertaining plots. Picket Fences was his first show. In my opinion, the name itself coupled with the point of the various plots of the shows, earns it the title as his most brilliant look into the human psyche.

Picket Fences takes place in the small town of Rome, Wisconsin. Jimmy Brock, the main character is the sheriff of the town. His wife, Jill, is the town doctor. They have three children, a perfect house with a spotless lawn and, you guessed it, a white picket fence. As a matter of fact, most houses in the town have white picket fences and, on the outside, the homeowners’ lives seem perfect.

However, a lot happens in this town. As the plot centers around the sheriff and the doctor, most stories revolve around puzzling illnesses or crimes. Some more memorable episodes involve cows mysteriously giving birth to humans, a mass of murdered bodies found in freezers, and spontaneous human combustion. Mr. Kelly went to great lengths to prove that picket fences do not make a perfect community.

The white picket fence has become the symbol of the American dream. And yet our new vinyl siding, beautifully maintained flower beds and white picket fences only give us a false sense of purity. Those expensive opaque blinds simply conceal our true emotions, our real-life blemishes – anger, disappointment, greed, gluttony.

A quick google search on picket fences comes up with “outdoor shower hiding behind a white picket fence.” People today believe that we can hide anything behind a white picket fence. And in the same way, we hide behind our outer appearances. Manicures, pedicures, make-up, expensive yet uncomfortable shoes, stiff yet “flattering” clothing – we hide our flaws behind this structural equipment. And we spend way too much time working on them instead of working on the issues inside.

No matter how thick the siding, how white the fence, or how beautiful the flower beds; if the inside of the house has turmoil, it will seep outside. The family cannot maintain health on the outside, if, on the inside, there is pain. It is the same with our bodies. No matter how perfect the hair or make-up; no matter how muscular or athletic, if the mind and the soul are in chaos, the body will cease to function appropriately.

I am not advocating ignoring your siding, lawn, fence, or bodily needs. On the contrary, I believe that sometimes cleaning up the outside can prompt a deeper cleanse. However, only tending to our outward needs is only doing half the job.

In the book of Samuel, chapter 16 verse 7, God speaks to the prophet Samuel saying, “For God sees not as humans see: humans look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” We are not God, but we are commanded to be Holy. Parents teach their children to “not judge a book by its cover.” Judaism teaches the same in its own way – “Al tistakeil b’kankan, eileh b’mah she-yesh bo – Don’t look at the bottle, rather, look at what is inside.” Teachers instruct students to treat everyone fairly, not by what they wear or how tall they are. Clergy preach about equal rights for all regardless of race, ethnicity, or other outward signs. And yet, we all fall victim in some way or another to disbelieving what we ourselves teach. The more we fall apart inside, the more we attempt to gain control over the outside. The vicious cycle is soul-deadening.

We must strive to see ourselves as God sees us – from the inside out. Once we shine that light inside of us to an illustrious gleam, it will radiate such light and warmth, it will overshadow any broken boards of our picket fences, any dull pieces of old siding, any physical blemish we fear. God knows, our souls are pure, our faults are real and true, for we are only human. But to become divine, we must look inside, not out – for that is where the holiness lies.

Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet