July 25th has an interesting and obscure designation on internet lists…it is listed as “Thread the Needle Day.” Most people who do not sew would agree that threading the needle is one of the most difficult aspects of the sewing process because of the diminutive size of the eye of the needle. On this day, in honor of all of those frustrated by sewing, Jewish Treats examines the metaphoric “eye of the needle” in Jewish texts.

The first usage of the expression, in Talmud Brachot 55b, speaks of the idea of an elephant going through the eye of a needle as a metaphor for the impossible. This passage in the Talmud, which discusses dreams, quotes Rabbi Jonathan as saying “A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts.” Raba supports this statement by saying: “This is proved by the fact that a man is never shown in a dream a date palm of gold, or an elephant going through the eye of a needle,” implying that this is because they are random and irrational thoughts.

However, in the Midrash in Song of Songs Rabbah it is noted that at the Splitting of the Sea, God told the Children of Israel: “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” (Song of Songs Rabbah 5:2). This is understood as a call for the Jewish people to reach out to God, and that if one turns to God (making a small opening in his/her heart), then God can do anything for them.

These two separate thoughts actually merge to create a beautiful message of faith. One would not naturally dream of an elephant fitting through the eye of the needle, but even the impossible can be accomplished through trust in God.

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