When I was 16, I accompanied my father, a structural engineer, to one of the construction sites he was involved with. As my father was driving to the site, I relaxed in the back seat and closed my eyes. Within moments, I felt a fierce jolt and a loud crash, as if a strong earthquake had hit the car. Panicked, I looked around and realized that we had been in a car crash. The left side of the car was completely bent in; the back seat windows were shattered. The car was totaled.

This was shocking, because our car was an old Volvo, square-shaped and solid; built like a tank, its whole existence revolved around its safety features. The woman who hit us had been high on drugs. She had stolen the old Oldsmobile she was driving (which was also built like a tank), and was speeding at 80 miles per hour in an attempt to evade the police who were chasing her, so the crash really made an impact.

The injury and adrenaline rush came so suddenly that I hadn’t yet felt the painSitting in the back seat, my heart was pounding, and I started to tremble. I looked in the rearview mirror to find my mouth covered in blood. The injury and adrenaline rush came so suddenly that I hadn’t yet felt the pain, so it was a shock to see. The doors were smashed in, so I couldn’t get out; instead, a man off the street pulled me out through the window. Thank G‑d, my father was unharmed.

I remember sitting on the edge of the curb, with all the chaos around me—the street being closed off, the blaring sound of the fire engines and ambulance in the distance, the people crowding around. A kind woman who had been waiting for the bus somehow got a hold of washcloths and ice for my face. While waiting for the ambulance, I felt all of my front teeth bent backwards in my mouth; several had been knocked out. At the time, I was only a month away from having my braces removed. The inside of my mouth felt so swollen that I could barely talk. My teeth had even turned black and blue—I didn’t know teeth could turn that color. I also suffered a gash on my left cheek. Realizing all this, the first thought that entered my mind was how deeply disappointed I was about my appearance. It was the first thing that I thought of, and I began to cry softly.

The woman next to me lovingly put her arm around me and said, “I know . . . it must hurt . . . don’t worry, you will be OK.” Her words struck me . . . “it must hurt.” That very second was life-changing for me. This woman was comforting me because she thought I was crying out of pain—the logical reason to cry after an accident like this. And yet, here I was crying because of the way I would look the next day. Never mind that I was alive and fully conscious, that I survived a horrible crash . . . that my life didn’t end. What was I thinking? Where were my life’s priorities?! Where was my gratitude for having escaped danger with fully functioning limbs? I felt embarrassed by own superficial reaction. I thanked the kind woman. And as the ambulance strapped me down and whisked me away, a new part of me was born and the “old” me—the one who was once preoccupied with matching outfits and the right color nail polish—stayed behind on that street curb.

At the hospital, the doctor informed me that had I been in any other car, I wouldn’t have made it. Though still anxious and panicked, I felt excited and uplifted. I was alive! Somehow, my life had been spared. Who cares how I look?! And even if it pained my mouth to smile—at least I still could! I felt wonder at how fortunate I was. I even asked the radiology tech, when he was about to X-ray my mouth, if he wanted me to smile as he took my X-rays. “You have a sense of humor, good for you,” he smiled. Yes, I was in good spirits! And why shouldn’t I be?! I was blessed that day with the beginning of a new perspective that would evolve over the years and last me the rest of my life.

I was blessed that day with the beginning of a new perspective My new outlook was a fortunate happening, because as it turned out, my left cheek stayed larger than my right cheek for a couple of years, and I had to go through another seven years of getting my teeth fixed and straightened.

Before my lesson in vanity, I blended with my teenage environment, preoccupied with superficiality and ignoring my true potential—my capability to bring out the good and meaningful in all things. However, after the accident, a deep desire began to emerge from me—the need to shine light into life.

This accident happened during Chanukah time. Reflecting back, I am astounded at the connection. In celebrating Chanukah, we are not only celebrating the rededication of our Holy Temple, which was defiled by the pagan Greeks when they wished to convert us to their hedonistic lifestyle. We are also celebrating a significant choice we can make in each moment of our life today: choosing what is true, sacred and irreplaceable over what is false and superficial, even when we are tempted to do otherwise. This is what the Maccabees (a Jewish army led by Judah Maccabee) stood for in the revolt against the Greeks: the courage to choose to live life as G‑d would have us live it—without anything distracting us from radiating our inner light onto the world around us, our true purpose.

Most of us have this desire deep within us, but it is not until we are challenged that we can truly take a stand and evolve into something even greater. This is what Chanukah is all about—something greater. A light that comes from within us only when we reach for it—a pure light, that shines even as it stands in the dark . . .