By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 12, 2009

These days throughout Israel one sees the small pink blossoms of the shkediyah tree, the first tree in Israel to wake from its winter slumber. The shkediyah is the almond tree, and its fruit is called a shaked.

The Bible uses the shaked as a metaphor for swiftness and vigilance. In Jeremiah 1:11-12, God asks Jeremiah what he sees, Jeremiah answers, “I see the branch of a shaked. God said to me, ‘You have seen right, for I am shoked to bring my word to pass.’” God is going to be swift or watchful to bring about Judah’s retribution.

The vast majority of biblical uses of shaked bears a negative connotation. With that in mind, Rashi reads the blossoming of Aaron’s rod with almond flowers (Numbers 17:23) as an allusion to the fact that those who question the authority of the priesthood will be swiftly punished.

It’s not easy to blossom when it is still winter and face the risks of harsh weather. The shaked therefore is a courageous fruit whose toughness is its secret of survival — therefore it is a metaphor with an edge of power and reckoning.

In schools across Israel children sing “Hashkediyah porachat” (“The almond tree blossoms”) in celebration of Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees. While it may not be the strongest or tallest of trees, it has guts, which has earned the shaked a place of honour in Jewish tradition.

Last updated: 12:45pm, March 6 2009