The trees are bare here in Baltimore. But in the land of Israel, coinciding with Tu B’Shevat, the almond trees begin to blossom ushering in the first sign of spring.
In the book of Jeremiah, in his earliest prophecy, God asks Jeremiah what he envisions? He sees an almond branch in full bloom – the almond branch a symbol of the imminent nature of the prophecy itself. (Jeremiah 1:11-12).
In the book of Numbers, Chapter 17, following the challenge to leadership by Korach, God through Moses, sets up a challenge to establish God’s preference for headship of the Priests. Twelve rods are set up by the Tent of Meeting, and the head Priest will be the one whose staff blossoms. Aaron’s staff shoots up an almond blossom and fruit, indicating that Aaron will be first.
Not just an ancient symbol for beginnings and firsts, the almond tree is immortalized as a “first”, on the new orange 100-new-sheqel note in Israel. On this new currency note, a picture of the Israeli poet Leah Goldberg, is accompanied in small print with a line from her poem: “In the land of my love the almond tree blossoms…” as she refers to the fleeting nature of Spring in the land of Israel.
On Tu BiShevat, at our Seder, as we eat our first taste of fruit, known as “fruit with shells” the almond is a common taste that is in our first line-up of fruits. We will sing joyfully:
“The almond tree is growing,
A golden sun is glowing;
Birds sing out in joyous glee
From every roof and every tree.
Tu B’Shevat is here,
The Jewish Arbor Day
Hail the trees’ New Year,
The fruit-with-shells, our first taste of the Seder celebrating the New Year of the Trees, is often represented by almonds. The fruit-with-shells, in our mystic tradition, is a symbol the notion of the world of here-and-now. In our mystical language: it represents the world of Assiyah “doing”. The sweetness of the fruit is inside an encased shell, teaching us that as we live our lives in the present, we are encased by God’s effluence. God protects us.
January is the beginning of our Gregorian year.The Talmud offers us the maxim: “All beginnings are hard”. There is something comforting in the symbolic reminder of the almond-first-fruit, the fruit-with-shells, that in here-and-now beginnings there is a sweetness to be consumed, and that our lives are surrounded by God’s loving protection.
Happy secular New Year to all. Happy Tu B’Shevat to all. A time of good and positive beginnings for all.