Almond trees blossom in late winter, in the middle of Israel’s rainy season. They’re the first trees to blossom in Israel, making them an ancient Jewish symbol of renewal, hope, and diligence.
The almond tree appears a number of times in the Torah. When Jacob sends Benjamin with his other sons to Egypt for food, he tells them to bring a gift of almonds to Joseph (Genesis 43:11). As the Israelites travel in the desert, Aaron’s staff sprouts almond blossoms and almonds as a sign that Aaron is chosen by God to serve as the first High Priest (Numbers 17:23). And in the book of Jeremiah, God shows the prophet an image of an almond tree branch as a symbol that God is diligent in keeping His word (Jeremiah 1:11-12). The blossom shapes that were worked into the Temple menorah are generally thought to have been almond blossoms:
There were three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on one branch; and there were three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals, on the next branch; so for all six branches issuing from the lampstand. On the lampstand itself there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with calyx and petals (Exodus 37:19-20)
Because almond trees are the first trees to blossom in Israel, ancient rabbis decided that the time they bloomed would be the new year for trees. The designation helped determine how old a tree was and whether a portion of its fruit would need to be brought to the Temple for tithing. The rabbis declared that the new year for trees would fall on Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which occurs in late January or early February. Today, people often celebrate Tu B’Shevat with a seder meal featuring foods associated with the land of Isreal, including almonds.
Update: Now there’s an Almond Blossom Challah Cover Pattern in the shop!
[Almond tree photo source: Almond trees in blossom by Victor R. Ruiz via Wikimedia Commons]
Maria Bywater is the author of Sew Jewish: The 18 Projects You Need for Jewish Holidays, Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations, and Home. She teaches hands-on Judaica sewing workshops.