Becoming friends with a Chabad Rebbetzin was going to be a different sort of relationship from any I had had before. The Rebbetzin was wise beyond her years, yet I was practically old enough to be her mother. She was a woman of the house in ways that I had been raised to shun. She reigned in her kitchen with a sense of purpose and joy that I found astonishing; she could multitask like nobody’s business. I learned from her while peeling potatoes to be single-handedly focused on the goal at hand. We were preparing for dozens of guests—those who made reservations for Shabbat meals and those who just showed up in the way family members do when they feel at home.

The culmination of the week for me was the clearing of the table after Shabbat lunch. I would open the Chumash, theShe could multitask like nobody’s business Gutnick edition of Torah, with nearly every page offering fascinating insights from the Rebbe, Rashi and other Torah luminaries. The Rebbetzin would sit down and join me, and together we would work on solving one perplexing issue after the other. Except she never called it work. The Rebbetzin called it learning, and I found this sweet and inviting. To “learn Torah” is so different from “studying Torah.” To learn sounded to me pleasant and from the heart with no pressure attached.

One week we sat down to learn Chayei Sarah, Sarah’s Life. This portion (parshah) starts with Sarah’s death. Here we learn that the news of her beloved son, Isaac, and his imminent sacrifice caused Sarah to have a heart attack and die. She didn’t live to hear the end of the sentence. She never got to hear the part about the ram, which happened to appear in the bushes, being sacrificed instead of her son. It was one more lesson in how to choose words carefully, and the timing of their delivery with utmost care.

I was learning week by week at the Chabad House how Torah provides the raw material for rich conversation, and it made our blossoming friendship even closer. The parshah shaped the direction of the conversation.

There is indescribable intimacy by sharing Torah with a study partner. I could leave behind my puny troubles, which paled in comparison to Abraham’s. As we got deeper into the story about the sacrifice of Isaac, the plot thickened at the moment when the ram appeared through Divine intervention. Here was a lesson for the toolbox of life: to act out of faith and let G‑d choose the sacrifice. This I could understand just fine. But what bothered me more than Abraham’s finely attuned ear to hear and follow G‑d’s commands, which I could understand, was how Yitzhak, a 37-year-old man, could comply without the least bit of resistance. He lay down, allowed his father to bind his hands and didn’t even resist the knife to his neck. What sort of a son does that?

The Rebbetzin read each sentence slowly, absorbing Sarah’s Life as if for the first time, even though she had been learning Torah all her life.

“There’s not a word here to hint of Isaac’s reaction,” I insisted. The Rebbetzin explained how Mishnah and Talmud and rabbinical commentary fill in between the lines—not that she was suggesting I take up reading Mishnah instead of the daily newspaper. Her words were more nuanced than that. She explained that each Torah chapter’s understanding is shaped by the learner. Since each Torah portion shows up once a year, we read the text differently according to our life circumstances. This year, I may obsess over Isaac’s mysterious surrender to the knife. Next year, maybe I’ll get into a tizzy over the ram’s sudden appearance in the bushes and why nobody heard that big beast approaching.

In the end, I could accept the Rebbetzin’s view that it wasn’t complacency at all that motivated Isaac. “Isaac was so eager to do what G‑d had commanded his father that he begged his father to tie his wrists to his feet extra tight, in order to prevent him from jerking suddenly under the knife.”

Whew, that’s intense.

“Let’s read on,” she said. “Along came a ram. It appeared after Abraham heard G‑d’s angel; it was trapped in a nearby thicket so it could be easily slaughtered instead.”

When Abraham reached the end of the road, so to speak, not even challenging G‑d to a debate—when there was nothing more for Abraham to do except follow G‑d’s orders—that ram’s appearance showed Divine intervention. It also required quick thinking on Abraham’s part to put aside, at the very last moment, an intention he was poised to act upon.

“How do you know whether your actions are ever correct?” I asked. “You can’t always expect a ram to be waiting in the bush.”

The Rebbetzin laughed. “Why not? That’s what it means to have faith in G‑d.”

My own faith, a relationship with the G‑d of Abraham, didn’t happen overnight. But one Shabbat at a time, it was gaining traction. Sarah had become a mother at 90. Miracles could happen. I could believe them. I was 42 years old.

I went home and prayed for another baby.

Learning Torah on Shabbat was one thing. Faith that it actually meant something significant in my life was another. I had to take Sarah, the matriarch’s extraordinary story out for a test drive. In other words, I had to apply it to my own life.

I thought to myself what can I do that would be a stretch of faith. I didn’t need a miracle, just something a little bit unexpected.

“I’m over 40,” I sighed to the Rebbetzin on another Shabbat. “After six years of trying, I feel lucky to have one child.” And here I hesitated to admit the truth. “I would love to have a second.”

“Of course, you can!” the Rebbetzin said.

“Tell me, what is the secret? Why is it that Orthodox women seem to have an easy time of conceiving one child after the other?” I said, returning to conception. At my age, I couldn’t afford another long wait.

“The mikvah,” she said.

Now this was going to be a stretch. It just wasn’t the thing to do in my family.

“But is there even a mikvah Tokyo?” I asked.

“You can do it in the sea.” The Rebbetzin made it sound like no big deal.

“Well, there are hordes of people at the beaches.”

“We know a secluded beach.”

And just like that, my faith would be tested. On the appointed evening, the Rebbetzin turned up in front of my house with the rabbi idling the van in the driver’s seat.

“He’s coming?” I asked in surprise. I understood that going toThis was about to morph into a Chabad House project mikvah is usually a completely private women’s affair, certainly without any rabbi present. But now, this was about to morph into a Chabad House project.

The Rabbi adjusted his black hat with a taxi driver’s smile. “I’ll be your driver tonight.”

I stepped into a van with a giant menorah fixed to the roof. He might as well have driven with a banner saying: “Off to Purify the Menstruator!” We zoomed off for a fast drive to the Miura Peninsula coast. The beach was empty when we got there, well past dark. The sea was tranquil and bright stars were our only peeping Toms.

The Rabbi stayed in the car, far from where we were heading. The Rebbetzin swapped her wig for a scarf, then she accompanied me waist-deep into the sea. She held a prayer book up to the moonlight, and I recited a short prayer. I dunked for an instant, then reached for the towel in the Rebbetzin’s hands.

Life went on. I forgot about the mikvah. But not long after, I felt queasy and repelled by one of my favorite Japanese vegetables, burdock root. I was pregnant again. And more eager than ever to learn Torah and find out how every decision we make can set off consequences, however insurmountable, that can lead to a miracle, too, when there is faith.

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir “The Marriage Out: My Jewish Family Made in Japan.”