The Midrash was quoted
"פתחו לי פתח כחודה של מחט --- ואני אפתח לכם כפתחו של אולם"
"Open for Me the opening of the eye of the needle..."
I insist that the Hebrew there should more properly be the point of the needle.
At Aish, they also mistranslate:
The Midrash on Song of Songs (5:2) says: “Open up for me an opening like the eye of a needle and in turn I will enlarge it to be an opening through which wagons can enter.” God just needs an opening as big as an eye of the needle. If you take the initiative and allow God to enter in to your life through a tiny hole, you'll see exponentially greater results....The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the Almighty will expand your tiny hole only if it is as permanently opened as an eye of a needle. It can't close up after a few days. We can't fool God – or ourselves – by making a temporary change and finding ourselves back where we started a few months later. Preparing for Rosh Hashana means making a lasting change.
The source of the phrase in its wrongful use as "eye of the needle" is found in Brachot 55b and it appears as
which is the "point" of a needle" which makes a hole even smaller than its eye.
I wrote to the person and received this:
Thanks for your feedback. I understand your point, but in the context of this midrash, the translation is the eye of the needle. The midrash states, "Open for Me the opening of the eye of the needle..." The word opening cannot be refering to the point of the needle which has no opening.
B'mchila [please excuse me but], the context is irrelevant. The translation stems from the Hebrew. And the Hebrew is quite forthright:
"אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל:
God said to Israel
בני, פתחו לי פתח אחד של תשובה כחודה של מחט,
My children open for me just one opening (so I can get in and make contact and communicate with you in the matter) of Teshuva even as tiny as that of the point of pin
ואני פותח לכם פתחים שיהיו עגלות וקרוניות נכנסות בו"
and I will open for you (via that tiny opening) doorways through which wagons and carriages could pass through."
I suggest that you presume the opening God requests is part of the needle. I think that the opening God asks for is one even smaller than the eye of a needle, one that the even the point makes when it enters cloth.
And since there is another word (actually two) for the "eye of the needle", I am convinced my reading is the correct one.
And the reaction to that was:
It's a nice interpretation you are offering.
Well, I persisted and found what I think is the origin for the mistranslated English phrase.
And it here
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
In the New Testament, Matthew 19:24.
A Christain site explains:
...What we have instead then, I believe, is a beautiful Hebrew hyperbole!...Indeed, Jewish Talmudic literature uses a similar aphorism about an elephant passing through the eye of a needle as a figure of speech implying the unlikely or impossible:
"They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle."4
This first instance concerned dreams and their interpretation and suggested that men only dream that which is natural or possible, not that which is unlikely ever to have occurred to them.
"… who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle."5
In this case, the illustration concerns a dispute between two rabbis, one of whom suggests that the other is speaking "things which are impossible".
The camel was the largest animal seen regularly in Israel, whereas in regions where the Babylonian Talmud was written, the elephant was the biggest animal. Thus the aphorism is culturally translated from a camel to an elephant in regions outside of Israel.
The aim is not, then, to explain away the paradox and make the needle a huge carpet needle for, elsewhere, the Jewish writings use the "eye of the needle" as a picture of a very small place, "A needle's eye is not too narrow for two friends, but the world is not wide enough for two enemies."6 . The ludicrous contrast between the small size of the needle's eye and the largest indigenous animal is to be preserved for its very improbability.
Jesus' hearers believed that wealth and prosperity were a sign of God's blessing (cf. Leviticus and Deuteronomy). So their incredulity is more along the lines that, "if the rich, who must be seen as righteous by God by dint of their evident blessing, can't be saved, who can be?". Later Christians have turned this around to portray wealth as a hindrance to salvation, which it can be – but no more so than many other things, when the message is that salvation is impossible for all men for it comes from God alone.
But beyond impossibility is possibility with God for, elsewhere, a Jewish midrash records:
"The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?]"7
In other words God only needs the sinner to open up just a crack for him and God will come pouring in and set up room for an oasis. God only needs a 'foot in the door', so to speak.
This is similar to the Talmudic use of two Hebrew letters, one which represents God holiness ('Q' Qoph, as in qadôsh 'holy') and another representing evil ('R' Resh, as in ra' 'evil'), in a story told for the purpose of teaching the Hebrew alphabet and Jewish morals. It is said that 'q' has a separated opening in order that should 'r' repent he may enter into God's holiness through the small opening.
I enlarge on the footnotes:
4. Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth, 55b - Note:- the word for 'eye' is: בקופא דמחטא
5. Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezi'a, 38b and the same term:- בקופא דמחטא
6. Source not traced but cf. Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 1.3
7. Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs, 5.3; cf. Pesiqta R., 15, ed. Friedmann, p.70a; Soncino Zohar, Vayikra 3, p95a
Note, though that the Aramaic in the Zohar there at note 7 in Vayikra 95a is:
פתחי לי פתחא כחדודא דמחטא ואנא אפתח לך תרעין עלאין.
"Open for me an opening [even] as [small] as the sharp point of the needle" - חדודא דמחטא
So, was a Torah lecture based on the misreading of the New Testament?