The Talmud tells us that the name Mordechai means: pleasant smell. Queen Esther had a second name: Hadass-ah (Esther 2:7). Hadass is Hebrew for myrtle, famous for its nice scent. Esther is related to lehastir – to hide – in the Book of Esther G-d’s hand is hidden. (The Talmud, Chullin 139b, relates that G-d is hidden here as Source of the Salvation, based on Deuteronomy 31:18, that however uses the same concealment to say that Punishment comes when G-d’s Presence seems hidden to us.)
Even the seemingly lowest of the righteous in the Book of Esther has smell in his name: Harbonah (Esther 7:9) – the same letters as Reiach Boneh – the scent of building [of the gallows]. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:9) says that he was the Prophet Elijah.
Why would the names of the main Jewish players in the Purim story be connected to great smell?
The above mentioned myrtle is a symbol for the righteous (Talmud, Megilla 13a based on Zechariah 1:8). (Just seeing them makes you want to be like them.)
Sinning may involve all the senses but smelling. Smell is this untouched pure place from where we connect with the world around us and from where repentance may be build (daily prayers, Yom Kippur). It’s the least material sense, the most esoteric, but the supernatural of it is still hidden – the story of Purim.
G-d likes the odor of our sacrifices and there is even one (the incense) that is all about smell, but human olfaction is hardly mentioned in the Torah or the whole of the Hebrew Bible.
Eve saw that the forbidden tree was tasty (Genesis 3:6). Most of our taste is given by our nose (that’s why we don’t taste much when our nose is stuffed), so this “seeing” was referring to smelling. (The Torah did not want to openly connect something so holy to sinning. We should guard our eyes more than our nose.)
In Tenach, smelling was mostly popular around the first Jews. Isaac smelled the difference between his two sons. Or, so he thought (Genesis 27:27). Jacob always had his nose in a book (Genesis 25:27), but he became a worthy leader by stepping into the world, waking up and smelling the coffee. His greatest love was for a woman named Rachel (Genesis 29:18), a contraction for: G-dly smell (Reiach Ei’l). (Of course he did not kiss her at first sight (Genesis 29:11); he kissed her scent!) The leader of his twelve sons, her firstborn son Joseph, went down to sort out Egypt in a spice caravan (Genesis 37:25). The Egyptians were disgusted with Jewish food (Genesis 43:32). That’s most of it by far.
I don’t want to bloody anyone’s nose, but wicked people seem jealous of Jews’ propensity for virtue (we put their noses out of joint), and so depict us with big noses, trying to make fun of our great predilection for righteousness.
When people have drunk a bit too much alcohol, they are called in Hebrew mevusam: intoxicated, quite similar (Samech – Seen) to the Hebrew letters in word bosem, parfume.
In short: Follow your nose and have a Happy Purim!