LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: The new Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is announced at St John's Synagogue on December 19, 2012 in London, England. Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who was former chief Rabbi of Ireland, will succeed Lord Jonathan Sacks when he steps down from the post next year. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Why are almonds significant for us?
This Shabbat, the first Shabbat of the Three Weeks, we will be reading a Haftorah from the first chapter of Jeremiah. The prophet recalls the word of Hashem which came to him: ‘Ma Atah Roeh Yirmeyahu’, ‘What do you see in this vision, Jeremiah?’
‘Veomar’ – and the prophet replied to him saying: ‘Makeil Shakeid Ani Roeh’, ‘I see the rod of an almond tree’.
So our commentators grapple with this image. What does it represent for us?
There are those who say that it represents bad news to come. For example, Targum Yonatan tells us that the rod that Jeremiah saw in his vision, is like the sceptre of a king, indicating that an evil king will come, in order to bring much destruction upon our people.
And then, Radak, Rabbi David Kimche, one of our great commentators, says that the almond tree is one of the quickest to blossom and it’s a sign that the tribulations of our people will come quickly.
On the other hand, the Rambam, Maimonidies in the Moreh Nevuchim, the Guide to the Perplexed, tells us that the term ‘Shakeid’, ‘almond’, is similar to ‘Shokeid’, which means ‘to look after’ – indicating that the Almighty will watch over our people and protect us from our enemies.
But most significantly of all, the Midrash in Eicha Rabba tells us that it takes just 21 days from the time when the almond tree blossoms until there are ripe fruit, ready to eat from that tree. And those 21 days represent the 21 days of the Three Weeks between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tishah B’Av.
And therefore, there is a message of great hope. You know, on Tu Bishvat, we sing the song ‘Hashkeidiah Porachat’, recognising that the blossoming of the almond tree means that winter is behind us and now it is the beginning of spring.
This, therefore, is the message of the prophecy of Jeremiah, according to this Midrash. The ‘Shakeid’, ‘the almond’, is a symbol of the fact that all the troubles and the tribulations, the sadness and the pain and the grief of the Jewish people, the winter of our darkness will be behind us. And we can look forward, with much hope and promise to a summer of bright sunshine for our nation.
Indeed, our prayer is that this image of the prophecy will ring true in our time and we will enjoy only peace, happiness and security in our future.
Shabbat Shalom