Erupting with flowers before spring,
almond tree a bounty of Jewish symbolism
The subject of a biblical
and a SIGN of industriousness,
the almond tree blossoms in time for Jewish arbor day,
while most other plants are
still locked in winter’s embrace
In his seminal work, “Last Child in the Woods,” Richard Louv theorizes that humans have a genetically hardwired connection to the natural world.
It’s a connection that springs to life with the blossoming of a
tree or flower,
stimulating a kind of joy
that transcends aesthetics
and harkens back to a time when flora in full bloom
of human sustenance, food and drink nourishment
The dependence on nature’s bounty is behind the Bible’s mentions of more than 100 plants,
often for symbolic reasons that
can enhance an understanding of the texts.
Sun, Feb 5, – Mon, Feb 6, 2023; is a Jewish holiday
occurring on the 15th day of the
Hebrew month of Shevat.
It is also called Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot,
"A New Year of the Trees".
In contemporary Israel,
the day is celebrated as an ecological
and trees are planted in celebration.
The fruits that ripened from Tu BiShvat on
were counted for the following year's tithes
Jews in Israel and around the world will mark the minor holiday of
celebrating nature by planting trees and eating
(often dried) fruit,
paying closer attention
It’s a bit early,
as most trees and other species will still be in wintry slumber,
not the almond tree,
which begins to flower in Israel around this time,
first of the spring bloomers to strut its stuff.
A member of the rose family,
it is to Israel
what the cherry blossom is to Japan, a tree that
produces tens of thousands of delicate white or pink flowers,
all the more prominent because
they bloom before the emergence of leaves.
By producing so many flowers,
the almond hedges its bets,
upping its chances that
at least some will be pollinated and fertilized.
The wild almond
is actually a bush whose fruit is bitter
and whose seeds release cyanide when bitten into
This is a defense against herbivores. The common almond
(Amygdalus communis) trees
that produce sweet fruits are cultivated,
even if they often self-seed,
and are found in wilder locations
In the Bible,
involving an almond branch determines that
the Tribe of Levi would be
to provide Israel’s priests
The Israelites are at a low point.
Korah has tried to lead a rebellion against Moses,
and God has punished him and his accomplices while sending
the plague to finish off the thousands of men who
have supported them.
In Numbers 17, God instructs Moses to
obtain a staff, or BRANCH,
from each of the 12 tribal leaders and to
into the tent of meeting
in front of the
Ark of the Covenant
“The man whom I shall choose,
his rod shall bud;
and I will make to cease from Me
murmurings of the children of Israel,
which they murmur against you,”
Moses in Numbers 17:20.
Moses does as he is told
“And it came to pass on the morrow,
that Moses went into the
tent of the testimony;
the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded,
and put forth buds,
and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds,”
reads the scripture.
God then spells out
to Aaron, head of the Levite tribe,
responsibilities his family
and his descendants will have in the
the almond flowers first,
but takes a long time to produce ripe fruit.
This particular branch developed buds,
blossomed and produced ripe almonds all at the same time —
something that any farmer of the period
would have known to be impossible but for
In another context,
at another time, an apocryphal fifth-century BCE thinker named Ahikar instructed his followers to imitate the mulberry tree — which does fruit soon after flowering — rather than the almond,
which takes its time.
Another reference to the almond appears in the
Book of Exodus
when God gives
clear instructions on how he wants the sanctuary to look
A reconstructed biblical menorah in Jerusalem’s Old City,
on December 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
In describing the Menorah
“there shall be six branches going out of the sides thereof: three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof,
and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side thereof;
three cups made like almond-blossoms in one branch,
a knop [the cuplike sepals, which protect the petals] and a flower; and three cups made like almond-blossoms in the other branch, a knop and a flower; so for the six branches going out of the candlestick.”
From the Hebrew word for almond, “shaked,”
comes another word, “shakdanoot.”
This is applied to an industrious person and to
someone who studies Torah
with perseverance and diligence.
In the Book of Jeremiah (1:11-12)
also denotes watchfulness
“Moreover the word of the LORD
came unto me, saying: ‘
Jeremiah, what seest thou?’
And I said:
‘I see a rod of an almond-tree.’ Then said the LORD unto me:
"Thou hast well seen; for I watch over My word to perform it.'”
In Christianity, the almond,
with its seed concealed behind an outer hull
and a hard shell,
symbolizes the purity of the virgin and the
within the human shape of Jesus
In this Sept. 1, 2015,
photo, a statue of
Our Lady of Siluva, the Virgin Mary
in Siluva, Lithuania, is seen in the Basilica of the National Shrine
of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
This is why Christian icons often feature
the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ
within an almond-like mandorla, or frame.
(Mandorlameans almond in Italian.)
(literally the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat)
does not appear in the Bible.
It is first mentioned in the Mishna
(the written collection of rabbinic teachings)
as the “new year of trees,”
as set by the School of Hillel, while the School of Shammai determined that this new year fell on the first day of Shvat.
In fact, as Medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides explains in his commentary on Tractate Rosh Hashana, rather than marking a festival,
Tu Bishvat signified
the end of a fiscal year
for the purposes of tithes
Most fruit trees in Israel are deciduous.
lose their leaves in the fall
and become dormant, starting to come back to life
around the month of Shvat, which usually
falls around February
As Nogah Hareuveni explains in “Nature in our Biblical Heritage,”
fruit that began to form before
the 15th of Shvat would
be taxed along with other crops for the year that just ended,
while those that began to take shape after this date
would be taxed in
the following year.