It was a regular trip to the supermarket until I rounded the corner of the dairy aisle a little too enthusiastically, almost bumping into a well-dressed, pretty, dark-haired woman. As I went to apologize, I noticed she had been crying.

“Is everything OK?”

It’s not fair to ask a woman who’s holding it together with all that she has if she’s OK, but my wordsI wanted to comfort her were out before I could stop myself. She looked into my eyes, struggling to respond as the dam gave way, releasing the inexhaustible amount of tears that a woman’s heart can hold. Dancing between crying and apologizing, she finally calmed herself and spoke:

“I had a miscarriage.”

We held each other’s hands doing that crazy thing women do—sharing something deeply intimate with a woman we just met in the cottage-cheese aisle of the supermarket.

“It’s so silly, really,” she continued. “It was over a year ago, but some days . . . I don’t know why, it’s still so hard for me.”

I wanted to comfort her, to give her hope and let her know that this is how it starts sometimes. And that it wasn’t silly at all. I wanted her to know that I understood.

I understood the pain in her eyes; she needed to ask questions that had no answers. She needed someone to hear how she had it all there . . . and then it was not. She needed validation for all that she put into this—the love, the anticipation, the dreams—and to know that somewhere in the world, something had changed as a result of her uniquely creative feminine energy. She needed to express the hurt and shame she felt from the clumsily loving words offered by others, “there will be a next time” and “just move on,” as if it all meant nothing. She needed to know that she didn’t do a thing in the world wrong, that it was all part of a plan that was bigger than she was.

Hundreds of years ago, there lived a very special rabbi, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, who was known throughout Europe as someone willing to do anything, even perform a miracle, in order to help another person.

One evening a middle-aged couple came to him. They desperately wanted a child. The Baal Shem Tov closed his eyes, allowing his consciousness to soar to the spiritual realms. Looking up at them sadly, he said: “There is nothing I can do. Continue your prayers and good deeds and may Hashem have mercy.”

The wife burst into tears. “No, I won’t accept that answer! I know that when a righteous person such as you decrees, Hashem must fulfill. I want a child!”

Her cry broke the rabbi’s heart. He again lowered his head, this time for a long time, he then again looked up at the couple, “Next year you will have a child."

And so it was. The next year, the woman gave birthThe couple’s joy knew no bounds to a beautiful baby boy. The couple’s joy knew no bounds. The child was beautiful, with a sparkle in his eyes, and they could see that he was special, walking and talking at a very early age, and hungry for knowledge. They made plans to visit the holy Rabbi on the child’s second birthday to show him what his blessing had produced, but on the morning of his second birthday, the child did not wake up.

The parents mourned for the traditional one week and then set off to see the Baal Shem Tov. With swollen, tear-filled eyes, they cried: “It was hard enough all those years to have no children, but to have loved and nurtured a child only to lose him . . . we don’t understand.”

The Baal Shem Tov understood better than they could possibly have imagined. “I have a story to tell you,” he said.

A long time ago, there lived a rich and powerful king who longed for a son to carry on his lineage. He ordered that all his subjects hold daily prayers in their houses of worship so that G‑d would grant him an heir.

One of his advisors, known for his hatred towards Jews, told the king that the reason he was still childless was that his Jewish subjects were not praying for him sincerely enough, and the only way to make them do so was to oppress them. So the king issued a proclamation: If the queen is not blessed with a child within in the next three months, all the Jews would be expelled from his kingdom.”

A call resounded through the heavens for a soul willing to descend into the spiritually desolate environment of the royal palace in order the save the Jews of that land. One very holy soul agreed to make the sacrifice.

Very soon, the queen became pregnant and gave birth to a son. By the age of 2, the child could already read and write, and when he was 5 years old, he had surpassed all his teachers. The king brought in many scholars, who filled the boy with wisdom and righteous ideas. Influenced by this learning, the boy soon left the palace and became a great and famous sage, living a life of saintliness and good deeds.

When this sage passed on from this world and his soul went up to the heavens, there wasn’t a place holy enough for his special soul. The only problem was it had one blemish—the fact that it had been conceived, born and nurtured for two years in the spiritual void of the royal palace.

The Baal Shem Tov looked at the broken parents, “In order for that soul to achieve its full potential, it needed to return to earth to be conceived, given birth to and nurtured in an atmosphere of holiness and goodness.”

“I saw that you were not destined to have children. But I also saw the depths of your pure desire for a child and knew you were the parents for this special mission.

“That soul needed you to complete its mission in the world.”1

While I struggled to get through the last words of the story, we wiped our tears with every sleeveWe wiped our tears with every sleeve and hem we could find and hem we could find. I pity the poor soul who only needed some butter and had no warning of what he was in for in the dairy aisle.

I was told this story by a kind rabbi when I stood in those same broken shoes.

At the beginning of our baby boom, we befriended a couple in our apartment building who shared a similar due date and obstetrician, but a different fate: Their pregnancy would progress, while ours would end early on.

Weeks later, my neighbor found herself with no partner for her weekly Lamaze class and asked if I would go with her. We were an odd couple, but why not?

After a few rounds of focused breathing, the women headed to the break room like a stampede of blessed pachyderms. Once seated, they began a kvetch session par excellence: restless sleep, awkward bodies, cramping legs, yearnings for beer and other parts of their lives back. I stood aching, listening from behind a door—how I longed to be where these women stood, my body able to do what theirs was doing, wondering if it ever would, and if I could offer up a prayer of gratitude on my first varicose vein if I was fortunate enough to acquire one in this way.

Would I have recognized the absolute miracle of a baby or the trust that had been given to us to raise it? Or would I have just thought of it as a given, like going from fourth grade to fifth; you get married and a child comes, right? Not always. Sometimes, you need to storm the heavens, pleading for a soul to be sent down, but how special those souls are. This beautiful woman needed to know that pregnancy would never be the same again; it would be soooooo much scarier and never taken for granted.

She needed to know that instead of attending a “Mommy & Me” class, where women gather to complain about unexciting existences, she should opt for time at the fish tank at Walmart, and swap phone numbers with moms who beam with enchantment and have crazy senses of humor. And when friends talked about the “terrible twos” and “have you considered that someday they’ll be teenagers,” she will smile, knowing that she’s been waiting for all those stages when souls reveal their passions and energy.

And none of it will be easy.

She will use strengths and talents she never had before, and wonder how she will fill her days with something as hair-raising and fulfilling once her children are grown. You see, although her pregnancy did not create a child, this not-child had created a mother—one who will forever live her life through a lens of gratitude.

As the containers ofI have not seen this woman since that day milk and cottage cheese came back into focus, we laughed as we pulled ourselves back together. Exchanging names, hugs and blessings, we parted with a special closeness and added strength from each other.

I have not seen this woman since that day. She is a prominent businesswoman in our city, and I blow her a kiss each time I pass her place of business. I pray that the depths of her cries and pure desire for a child broke through the heavens. I know that she will pass that story on to the next woman who needs it, probably while standing in the supermarket or other such intimate place, sobbing together as she shares the words: “That soul needed you.”