…the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted: it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and borne almonds – Numbers 17:23

Almonds, the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, have been highly valued since ancient times. When Jacob sends his sons back to Egypt, almonds are one of the choice products of the land (Gen. 43:11) that he sends with them as gifts to the ruler in the hope that they will be able to procure additional food to relieve the severe famine in Canaan.

In biblical imagery, the almond tree conveys multiple meanings. As the first of the native fruit trees to bloom, it symbolizes an individual’s selection by God for a special purpose. When Aaron’s, of all the staffs brought to the Tent of Meeting by the Israelite tribal leaders, turns into an almond tree, it reaffirms that God has chosen him to serve as high priest (Num. 17:23). Visualization of an almond branch accompanies Jeremiah’s call to prophesy (Jer. 1:11).

The almond tree is also associated with God’s watchfulness, in particular with regard to transgressions that provoke Divine retribution. Once the other rods are returned, Moses is instructed: Put Aaron’s staff back before the Pact, so that their mutterings before Me may cease, lest they die (Num 17:25). Jeremiah’s vision of the almond branch (makeil shaked) is accompanied by a warning that God intends to bring destruction quickly to pass (ki shoked ani al devari la-asoto).

The almond tree, which is related to apricot and peach, is unusual among fruit trees. It blossoms before it sprouts new leaves. The immature, green fruits are edible a few weeks after the blooms appear. Almonds are harvested in late summer after the rinds shrivel and the seed casings harden. In Ecclesiastes, the leafless almond tree covered in fragrant white flowers signifies old age and the brevity of life (12:5).

Legend holds that Aaron’s staff with its blossoms and fruit was fashioned at twilight between the sixth day and the Sabbath of creation (Pesachim 54a). How awesome that sweet almonds are available to us blanched or not, whole or sliced, ground or in paste. Bitter almonds come to us, toxic prussic acid removed by heating, in extracts and liqueurs.

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