I was in a car accident last week. Or perhaps the right words are, “I caused a car accident last week.” The guy in front of me slammed on his brakes because the guy in front of him did, and I crashed into his car. I didn’t respond fast enough when he suddenly stopped, and now I have a sore body and a car with significant damage and since I live in NJ, I can look forward to G-d knows how much of a bill when you add up tickets, points, and deductibles.
I keep living the accident over and over again, this constant nightmare in my head. I can still hear the crash, feel it in my body, and that sinking “Oh no!” that comes from it. I had plans, an appointment I was on my way to, and so did the other driver. But this happened instead. Now it’s insurance adjusters, and body shops, and chiropractors, and apologizing over and over again to my husband for messing up his car. There is also a renewed and deeper fear of leaving my house, of driving anywhere, of recognizing that every day I don’t know if and when I’ll return to the house — or if my family will — in the same shape they left, or even, at all. This awareness haunts me, terrifies me, makes me cry.
I share this incident with you because I am acutely aware of how being frum shaped the way I responded to the accident from the first minute. I’ll share with you what I mean.
My first response after “OH NO”, was thank you, Hashem, that no one was injured. Even though the accident happened because the guy in front of me slammed on his brakes, I am considered at fault because I hit him. I wish it hadn’t happened. But it did, so I thank Hashem that it wasn’t much worse.
The other guy was rushing to an appointment. The damage to his car was minor. He suggested not bothering with the police, and just trading car insurance info. I should have done that, would have saved me a lot of money in points and insurance increases. But I knew the right thing to do was to call the police, and in that instant, I chose to do the right thing and call the police. (I admit several moments since then of clunking myself on the head and saying, “you idiot, what were you thinking?!!!!”)
At the end of the transaction, I approached the man and apologized to him for hitting his car. Although this in itself was an admission of guilt, and perhaps I should have been taking the stand of, “Hey, this is YOUR fault for putting on your brakes!”, I chose in the moment to just say, “I’m sorry for hitting your car.” He softened immediately, told me it was all right, and asked me what my first name is. I told him, “Azriela, a Hebrew name which means G-d is my helper.” He smiled, and quoted me back a bible verse from his religion. For a moment, we were just two people recognizing that G-d is in charge, and we forgave one another. I wished him a good day and he wished me the same.
Ever since the accident, I keep asking myself over and over again — if this was from Hashem, and I must believe it is, why? Am I being punished for something I’ve done wrong? Am I being warned to stop doing something I’ve been doing? Am I being given a wake up call? Why the expense right now we really can’t afford? Did I come by some money in the wrong way, and Hashem is taking it back from me now? Was this not a punishment, but actually saving me from something? Now that my car will be in the shop for who knows how long, did Hashem take it off the road because if that hadn’t happened, something much worse could have happened while driving it? Does the accident take the place of something so much worse, and I should be grateful for it?
And then, there is the sinking feeling I try to avoid dwelling on, that now consumes me. Life is so fragile, gone in a second, one crash and it’s all over as we know it. I kiss my children goodbye in the morning and pray they will return to me. I hug my husband before he heads off for work and pray for his safe return. Every morning, what is so dear to me can slip through my hands. I can’t hold on to it no matter how much I want to. It’s really all in Hashem’s hands.
And that is, for me, a really scary thought.
This is the moment when I am supposed to take the high road, and increase my bitachon, and feel a sense of serenity in this wake up call that reminds me that Hashem is in control. This is the moment when I should just be concentrating on my gratitude that the accident only resulted in broken metal, not broken bones, and that the guy I hit wished me a good day by the end of it.
And what does any of this have to do with being frum? Simply this.
I keep reviewing the whole accident with G-d in mind. G-d is always in mind. What does G-d want of me? Why is G-d doing this to me? What did I do wrong? What can I do better? Why today, and what does it all mean? Why was this G-d’s plan for me today?
I don’t have the answers, but I do know that it’s important that I keep asking the questions.