This Shabbat, we read the first of the Three Haftarot of Retribution which are read during the three weeks of mourning for the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).
In Yirmiyahu 1:11-12 we read:
And the word of God came to me saying:
Yirmiyahu, what do you see?
And I said,
I see a rod (makel) of an almond tree (shaked)
Then God said,
You have seen well;
For I watch over (shaked) my words to perform it.
What does the image of a rod of an almond tree signify?
A rod is associated with beating. Bilam used a rod to beat his donkey in last week’s Parsha. Unfortunately, even in the last generation it was considered acceptable in some parts of the world including some schools in Europe and the United States for teachers to strike students who were misbehaving with a ruler.
Radak explains that the retribution would come quickly to Israel, just as the almond trees blossom first in the spring (as we know from the famous Tu Bishvat song “Hashkedia porachat…”)
In Kohelet Raba 12:5 we learn:
Just as the almond tree takes 21 days to produce its fruit after it blossoms, so every decree (all of the catastrophes that befell Israel) took no longer than 21 days (from the 17th of Tamuz to the 9th of Av).
Shaked does not just mean almond, it also means to watch over.
Even during the catastrophes, God was watching over the Jewish people and pushing to end the retribution as quickly as possible.
May these three weeks of retribution pass quickly and may the Jewish people unite and fulfill Yirmiyahu’s prophecy to rebuild and make amends.