In Judaism, we are taught that the Jewish soul is eternal, that it lives forever. Whenever I thought about the concept of “forever” or “infinity,” it seemed very difficult to grasp. After all, everything in our physical world has a beginning and an end.

No matter how long-lived a redwood or sequoia tree is—whether 500 years old or even 1,000 years old—eventually, it must die. Nothing lives forever in this lowly physical plane.

But what about things, like the soul, that do live forever?How does something go on forever?

It has always been hard for me (and probably for most people) to wrap my brain around the concept of “infinity.” How does something go on forever?

An incident that happened when I was 13 helped me get just a brief glimmer of understanding.

But first, I think I should introduce myself.

My name is Esther Malka, and I was born in the small midwestern town of Moline, Ill., where I was raised in a typical middle-class, nominally Protestant family. No one in my immediate family followed any religious beliefs or practices or thought about G‑d at all.

Following my mother’s death when I was not yet 2, I was cared for by a Catholic nanny, Marie, who did have religious feelings, and she always told me that “G‑d was watching over me from Heaven.”

Because of this, in spite of the fact that I was the only one in my home having any thoughts or questions about G‑d, I did manage to grow up with some type of awareness that I had a Father in Heaven and was being cared for by Him. This greatly influenced my eventual quest for the truth later on.

As I related in my previous story,G‑d sent a Jewish girl, Lena, to be my best friend, and this encounter caused a complete change in my life. She saw my interest in her faith and customs, and although she didn’t know much, she shared what she knew, and it was enough to spark an awakening in my soul.

Eventually, I grew up, attended college, and my Jewish quest led me to discover Chabad, and the shluchim in Milwaukee, Rabbi Yisroel Shmotkin and his wife Devorah (to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude). From there, it led me to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whom I was privileged to meet several times and to whom I owe my existence as a Jew—for, by the age of 19, I had stood before an Orthodox bet din as a new convert to Judaism, and I never cease to thank G‑d for this gift.

But back to my story.

The year when Lena and I turned 13 began a period in my life when, sparked by our friendship and my newfound encounter with Judaism, I began doing a lot of thinking and growing, questioning beliefs I had taken for granted up to that point.

At that age, I was (and still am) very interested in astronomy and would lie awake at night, pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Was it or was it not finite? If it had an end, where was the boundary? How could something so vast (the known universe has been calculated to be the distance of 13 billion light years spreading out in all directions) be contained by a border?

And if it was infinite, going on forever, what then is infinity? How could something just go on forever? I couldn’t wrap my brain around this.

And then, out of the blue, G‑d sent me an experience that greatly enhanced my ability to grasp these concepts.

Growing up in the Midwest, our family would vacation every summer at Crystal Lake in Michigan, where we rented a cottage and sailed on the lake. These were beautiful memories.

The summer I was 13, and undergoing this whole process of spiritualIt was impossible to bring the boat back to shore transformation, found our family vacationing at our usual retreat at Crystal Lake.

That year, my father decided to teach me how to sail. When he saw I had mastered the skill, he said that the next time, I would take the boat out by myself.

One morning soon after this, we went down to the lake, where there was a stiff breeze blowing towards the lake. As I pushed off from shore, I confidently reviewed in my mind what I had practiced over the last few weeks and soon was headed out towards the center of the lake, the speed and the wind giving a sense of exhilaration.

When the wind steadily became stronger, I decided to turn around and head back to shore. That’s when the problems began.

Because of the steady, strong wind blowing out towards the lake, it was impossible to bring the boat back to shore. Try as I might, I only succeeded in getting farther and farther out into the lake. I began to get nervous. I realized that if I didn’t take down the sail, I could wind up being blown all the way to the other side of the lake!

So I quickly took it down.

Adrift in the middle of the lake, far from shore (and having neglected to bring paddles) I naively thought to get out of the boat, and, while in the water, push it towards the shore.

After lowering myself into the water and trying to push, I realized that this was never going to work, but upon attempting to climb back into the boat I managed to tip it over!

So now here I was, next to the overturned boat, treading water in the middle of Crystal Lake, my options exhausted. It was then that I looked around me.

There was only my head sticking out of the water, surrounded on all sides by miles and miles of lake stretching out in every direction.

The lake, which was my Universe, appeared from my vantage point to go on and on forever, never ending ... and I was this minuscule blip in the middle of all the vastness. It was exhilarating, and at the same time, very humbling.

I spent several moments taking all of this in and letting it seep into my consciousness. I was simply awestruck by this encounter with something in our physical world that, although definitely finite, and yet because it felt so vast and endless, allowed me to get a glimmer of comprehension of the infinite.

I thought to myself, an astronaut on a “space walk,” connected only by a tether to his spaceship, probably feels something very akin to this.

Fortunately, I remained calm; I don’t know why. It must be that G‑d was with me preventing me from feeling any sense of impending danger. I also knew not to leave the boat. I was treading water, but knew that I could hold onto the boat if needed.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of a motor. A man appeared in a motorboat and told me to get in, pulling me inside. Just like that, I had been rescued!

As we headed for shore, he said he had spotted my boat overturned and set out to help, reassuring that he would arrange for the boat to be retrieved. I thanked him profusely, and on stepping onto shore, headed for our cabin.Just like that, I had been rescued!

When I walked through the door, my father was right there, waiting for me, and I immediately related to him everything that had transpired—being stuck in the middle of the lake, capsizing the boat, and my rescue by the kind man in the motorboat. He was pleased but somehow not surprised, as though he had maintained full confidence that whatever would happen, I would pull through it.

And I’m truly forever grateful to my Heavenly Father, G‑d, for watching over me and protecting me from all harm.

Now, years later, as a mother and grandmother, I sometimes think back to that episode and tell it to my grandchildren. I realize that this moment was not a random occurrence, but Divinely orchestrated, to bring me to a fuller awareness of G‑d just when I was in the midst of really momentous spiritual changes.

As I let my mind wander back to that day, my memories give rise again to the mystical, awe-inspiring feeling of being swallowed up by the vast lake—and by comparison, the universe—and at the same time feeling at one with it, knowing that G‑d could see and help me.

Then, as now, this has greatly helped me grasp the concept of “forever” because on that day long ago, I felt in touch with something much vaster and higher than our tiny world and finite selves, like a brush with infinity.