Big Bird z”l: A Little Torah in Memory of Caroll Spinney

Caroll Spinney, the legendary actor and puppeteer who portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street over five decades, died Sunday at age 85. Originally designed by a drawing from Jim Henson and built by Kermit Love in 1969 Big Bird was the iconic central character from Sesame Street. This huge yellow bird was bigger than life and at the same time a surrogate through which the children watching the show could understand the world being introduced to them through the television. Here is a fitting tribute to Spinney.


His passing gives me pause to reflect on the impact of Big Bird and Sesame Street has had on the world.

I also pause to reflect on another legendary bird, this one comes from Jewish mythology. Bar-Yokhani was a colossal bird which was believed to have a wingspan large enough to block out the sun. In the Talmud we learn:

Rabbi Yishmael ben Satriel also testified before Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi: Once an egg of the bird called bar yokhani fell, and the contents of the egg drowned sixty cities and broke three hundred cedar trees. The Gemara asks: And does the bar yokhani bird throw its eggs to the ground? But isn’t it written: “The kenaf renanim bird rejoices, but are her wings and feathers those of the stork? For she leaves her eggs on the earth, and warms them in dust” (Job 39:13–14)? The Sages understood that kenaf renanim is another name for the bar yokhani bird. If so, how could its egg fall if it lays its eggs on the ground? Rav Ashi said in explanation: That egg was unfertilized, and since it would never hatch the bird threw it to the ground. ( Bekhorot 57b)

Now that is another big bird. It is a powerful image of the impact that a simple but big idea could have on people.

Caroll Spinney’s passing is the end of an era. It is a sad day. It is a bad day. As Big Bird taught us:

Bad days happen to everyone, but when one happens to you, just keep doing your best and never let a bad day make you feel bad about yourself.

Big Big made us feel good about ourselves without ignoring these bad days. May Caroll Spinney’s memory be for a blessing. 


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