Posts Tagged ‘Peanuts and Torah’


For a long time I have been a huge fan of the cartoon “Peanuts.” I used to own a bunch of collections of cartoon strips run in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but they have long been lost. Around my 13th birthday in 1967 (May 29, 30, and 31), a series of strips ran that has always stuck with me; probably because I first read them at a very impressionable age.

In the first strip Charlie Brown sees Linus patting birds on the head. The birds love this. Charlie Brown goes up to Lucy and says, “Your brother pats birds on the head.” POW! Lucy levels Charlie Brown. In the last frame of that strip he says, “Some people are pretty sensitive about their relatives.”

The next day’s strip opens with Linus patting a bird on the head. The bird is sighing with contentment. Lucy comes up to Linus screaming, “What are you doing!” She tells him people are coming up to her saying “Your brother pats birds on the head.” She yells at him to stop doing it. She walks away from Linus in anger. In the last frame a bird sticks out his foot and trips her.

The last strip in the sequence has Linus talking to Charlie Brown. “What’s wrong with patting birds on the head?” he asks. “It humiliates your sister,” responds Charlie Brown. “I can understand that,” says Linus, “but what’s WRONG with it. It makes the birds happy and it makes ME happy…so what’s really wrong with it?” Charlie Brown stares at Linus for a panel then responds, “No one else does it.”

I love the layers of meaning in this series of simple comic strips. Here is what I think is the p’shat or plain sense meaning of the series. Linus is going to be Linus no matter what anyone thinks about him. My friend and colleague Rabbi Brian Michelson says that Linus is not afraid to take off the mask most of us wear to the outside world and just be himself. He questions why others can’t see things as simply as he does.

The remez, or hint of something a little bit more is this: Altruistic Linus just wants to make others feel good. He does not discriminate against anyone – be they person or animal. He just wants to bring them a little happiness. Doing those simple deeds is fulfilling to him. I love it when I am Linus. Lucy is a control freak who gets upset when people do not conform to her standards of behavior. She places herself as judge and arbiter of what is appropriate. I sometimes behave like Lucy without even thinking about it. I then have to question the Lucy in me. Why am I reacting that way? What is it I think I am trying to control? Why am I not more accepting, go with the flow? Charlie Brown is the innocent messenger. He tells people what they sometimes do not want to hear. Often he gets slammed for it. We often look at Charlie Brown as a bit of a schlemiel, the hapless person who cannot keep from stepping into the mud. But I think Charlie Brown is admirable. He will say the truth even if he suffers for it. To be Charlie Brown is often very hard and I have to really motivate myself when it is time to be him.

The drash, or explanation of all of this is a question. How often are we Linus, Lucy, or Charlie Brown? All three exist within each of us. How do we balance these different personality traits? Where ever we fit in this comic strip says much about who we are and how we relate to others.

Now for the sod, the hidden meaning to all of this. There is Torah everywhere. It is all around us. Even in the comics.

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