Genesis 24 tells how the adventures of our foremother Rebekah began with a nose ring.
One evening, when Rebekah went to draw water from the well outside of Aram-Naharaim, she saw a stranger standing with ten thirsty-looking camels. This stranger—who turns out to be Eliezer, servant of the patriarch Abraham—asked Rebekah for a sip of water, and she did not hesitate; she lowered her jar and let him drink. And when he finished, she insisted upon drawing water for all of his camels as well.
After the camels stopped drinking, Eliezer—who, incidentally, was on the lookout for an appropriate wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son—gave Rebekah a golden nose ring and two golden bangles. Rebekah’s brother Laban saw the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and he knew that something out of the ordinary had happened at the well. Eliezer told them both the entirety of his miraculous tale, how he prayed for a woman to offer both him and his camels some water to drink—and for that woman to be the one that Isaac was destined to marry. No sooner had he uttered the prayer than he chanced upon the lovely Rebekah. And the rest, as they say, is Biblical history.
There is no indication in the Biblical text that the nose ring that Eliezer gave to Rebekah was of any particular significance; like the golden bangles, it was a simple gift for a potential bride, a way to let Rebekah and her family know that her suitor was generous and well-to-do.
But in the Midrashic imagination of a writer who spent her late adolescence in the 1990s—a time when the nose pierce was, perhaps, the ultimate symbol of teen-age rebellion— Rebekah’s nose ring emerges as a symbol of Biblical proportions.
I imagine Rebekah returning from the well to Laban’s house, now the first girl in Aram-Naharaim to wear a golden stud in her nose.
What is that thing in your nose? This is exactly why I keep telling you not to speak to strangers at the well! Do you want people to say that you are as crazy as your cousin Abraham, who traveled to Gods-know-where because he heard some voices in his head?
But Rebekah, with a defiant flash of her bejeweled nose, tells her brother that her body is her own, that she absolutely will continue to speak to strangers, to commit rash and random acts of kindness, even if it means throwing out her back to draw water for ten insatiable camels that Eliezer could have just as easily watered himself And Aram-Naharaim is such a sleepy little village—Rebekah dreams of traveling to Canaan (she always did have a taste for milk and honey.) She wants to hear words of wisdom from Abraham—rumor has it he can talk to angels—and to gaze into the eyes of his handsome son.
And as she packs her bags to meet her destiny, our brave and fashionable foremother considers dying her hair a deep purple, or maybe getting a tattoo…