Rivkah when seeking to compel Yitzchok to send Yaakov to her brother Lavan in Charan to search for a suitable mate among her family, she first expresses her utter repulsion in even entertaining the possibility of considering the local women as candidates for that privileged role.
“I am disgusted with my life on account of the daughters of Cheis; if Yaakov takes a wife of the daughters of Cheis like these, of the daughters of the land, what is life to me?”
Pretty mighty words! Life isn’t even worth living if that becomes a reality.
The Midrash adds a rather graphic detail to Rivkah’s impassioned appeal to Yitzchok, describing how Rivkah in absolute frustration blows mucus from her nose casting it down on the ground before Yitzchok, dramatically portraying the grossness of this awful possibility.(ב"ר סז)
Was that the only manner she could display her disfavor? She could have just as well spat upon the ground to make her point. Why the flourish of clearing her nostrils from their nasal fluid?
Have you ever wondered why our noses are centrally placed upon our countenance?
Why does the nose protrude from the face rather than simply having those two portals, our nostrils, flush on our face?
The Talmud tells us that the term describing an individual as a בעל החוטם, possessor of a prominent nose, was used to define a person of distinction and leadership. (תענית כט. רש"י שם)
The nose is the conduit for the source of all life, the very soul of man that was infused within him by G-d at creation when “He blew into his nostrils the soul of life”.
The Midrash observes the irony in the fact that although normally a King would never situate a waste drainage pipe right outside His palace, yet G-d created the nose, which serves as a drain for the ‘filth’ that collects there, as the limb which gives man’s face its ‘beauty and prominence’. (קה"ר ב)
How are we to understand this intriguing dichotomy?
The sense of smell man is endowed with represents our ability to discern and sense that which is not readily tangible with our more physical senses.
Earlier in our portion when Yaakov stands before Yitzchok in the guise of Esav, Yitzchok expresses his surprise as “he smelled the fragrance of his garments”, indicating he sensed the otherworldly smell of the Garden of Eden, that emanated from Yaakov.
Not everything is what it necessarily appears to be.
We are taught that Yitzchok even picked up the ‘positive scent’ of the future criminal descendants of Yaakov, who despite being sullied and fouled by sin, nevertheless possessed a pure and sweet smelling core, that would ultimately find expression.
What Rivkah sought to demonstrate was that by the same virtue not all that appears positive is indeed so. One must be keenly attuned to the subtle and poisonous bacteria that can infect an otherwise pristine and holy soul.
The two nostrils perhaps represent the dual purpose of a ‘Jewish nose’. On the one hand we must look deeply in discovering the kernels of purity that lie within every Jewish soul, but we must be equally vigilant in avoiding the malignant seeds of defilement that can consume us.
If it doesn’t smell right, keep away despite its positive lure. This is part of the Jewish genius and legacy we were bequeathed by our illustrious patriarchs and matriarchs.
The Talmud tells a tale of a certain Sadducee who offered the incense in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur in a manner contradictory to rabbinic tradition and gloated over his defiance of them, and was later found lying dead in a garbage heap with worms crawling out of his nostrils.
Rashi points out that it was his nose particularly that was symbolically displayed in disgrace since it is the first part of the body that entered into the Holy of Holies improperly. (יומא יט.)
An aspect of the physiology of the nose causes it to react to foreign matter that invades the body, generating bacteria fighting fluids to defeat it.
We are told that the wives of Esav polluted up their environment with smoky incense they offered to their idols. Rivkah not only responded physically to the caustic assault upon her olfactory system in clearing the mucus from her nostrils, she also understood and reacted to the deeper spiritual danger these ‘daughters of the land’ presented.
One who is truly ‘prominent’ and ‘beautiful’ is one who utilizes his ‘Jewish nose’ in examining carefully all that enters into one’s personal space. It is that intentional protrusion that must enter first before we may engage in any physical contact with a world around us that seeks to overpower us with its strong allure that ‘smells’ so sweet.
It has been suggested that the word חוטם, nose, begins with an bottom opened letter ח and concludes with a closed and sealed ם, to instruct us in the dual nature of this sophisticated organ. We must inhale the positive but at the same time remain vigilant in not allowing foreign matter to infiltrate our world.
The two remaining middle letters וט add up to 15. If we add 2 for each letter we arrive at 17, the same numerical value in the system of Gematria known as Mispar Katan, integral reduced value, (also referred to in mathematics as the digital root, or repeated digital sum, where the total numerical value of a word is reduced to a single digit. If the sum of the value exceeds 9, the integer values of the total are repeatedly added to each other until a single-digit number is reached), as the word for soul, נשמה!
The ק in the expression Rivkah used to express her disgust with life קצתי בחיי, is written as a miniature ק. The Baal HaTurim teaches that it alludes to the entranceway to the Temple that was 100 cubits high, equivalent to the numerical value of the letter ק, one hundred, to indicate that it is due to our being influenced by ‘the daughters of the land’ that the Temple was destroyed.
No wonder Rivkah used this stark display of disgust, in clearing her nostrils. It was so that we may realize that our ability to enter into the proverbial Temple and Holy of Holies, a life of inspired Torah and mitzvos, it must be preceded by implementing her vital message.
May we only stick our nose in the right places and use our proud association with our ‘Jewish nose’ to steer away from all that smells rotten!