Where almonds figure in the portion is in the way Aaron’s authority is vindicated at a time of crisis. His rod is placed amongst those of all the tribes, but lo and behold, his rod flowers and bears fruit. “It brought forth sprouts, it produced is blossoms, it bore almonds” (Num. 17:23).
Sarcastically one might ask, “Almonds? Why not apricots? Why not peanuts or cashews?”
There must be some quality that almonds possess that is relevant to the story. As we see from a passage (chapter 1) in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the word shak-ed, almond, literally means “eager”. The almond tree sees keen to bear fruit early, and that’s the clue to the distinctiveness of Aaron – he was a watchful leader, never sluggish, but on the ball, eager to serve God, keen to support every one of the people.
True, in Jeremiah it is God who is shak-ed: “I watch over My word, to perform it”. As Rashi and Radak tell us, God is eager to fulfil His promises at the earliest possible moment. In our passage, it is Aaron to whom the Divine characteristics of energy and initiative apply, but we can see from the incident that this is what endears Aaron to God and the people of Israel and justifies his appointment as high priest, that he hastens to perform his task.
Unlike others who say, “I’ll get around to it!” Aaron is ready to act without finding excuses for delay.