Although it is the heart of winter, the Jewish calendar has now entered the month of Shvat, the month of Redemption. And this is the time we read the Book of Exodus, when G-d chooses the Jewish people to become His partners in saving the world.
Whereas the Book of Genesis was all about Creation and the forming of individuals – in Exodus the Jewish individuals which have become G-d’s chosen family slowly develop into a nation, a nation which will be become pioneers in more ways than one.
As I write, my daughter has sent a photo by WhatsApp of being inoculated against Covid in Israel. And a photo of my son-in-law who has also now been inoculated by another of the four Israeli health insurance companies.
The importance of gleaning, which Judaism taught the world through the Book of Ruth, has also not been forgotten in Israel. Anyone who queues up at the inoculation centers can get a dose – because throwing life-saving medicines away is not only a sin in Judaism, it is also a crime. And in fact, nurses have run out into the streets in order to find passers-by to offer the jabs to at the end of the day.
We celebrate the first appearance of the first almond, known in Hebrew as sh-k-d, an anagram for ‘holiness’ and also conveying the idea of watchfulness, with a connection to Jeremiah 1:11-12, where the tiny ‘almond’ becomes a ‘watch-word’.
Here is Rashi’s commentary on the ‘almond’ verse, which he wrote in northern France in around 1066, when fellow-Frenchmen were invading England and taking it over at the Battle of Hastings.
The almond is generally regarded as one of the most health-giving foods in existence – and one of its traits is that it is quite hard to crack, starts off with a bitter taste and then becomes sweeter as you get used to it.
This present Covid situation, which first started to be taken seriously in this country around Pesach (Passover) of last year, has everything to do with Exodus and almonds.
As early as Tu Bshvat last year, Israel started to make very difficult decisions in order to combat the oncoming plague. For instance, the spring Purim carnival, much loved by children, was cancelled. It is not yet known whether it will go ahead this year.
The month between Tu B’Shvat and Purim will be a seminal period when decisions will have to be made. Meanwhile all schools are still shut over there.
However, with people under 50 now being inoculated in Israel, it may be that the vast majority of adults will be inoculated by the end of February, just when Purim takes place, a month before Pesach (Passover).
So, during this festive time of plagues tempered with almonds and slavery tempered by liberation, who knows what the outcome will be. The only way forward is eternal vigilance – which has been the watchword of the Jewish people for 4,000 years.