Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles

Throughout the play In Every Generation, there is much talk of miracles, but what exactly merits that moniker?
In the Jewish Bible, miracles range from a very geriatric pregnancy to the splitting of the sea to the desalination of a city’s only water source. Following the destruction of the First Temple, the miracles immortalized by texts and holidays shift to those of survival: the victory of the Maccabees over the larger and better-equipped army of invading Hellenes, the reversal of fortune of the Jews of Persia who had nearly been annihilated en masse, the recovery of some of Rabbi Akiva’s students following a devastating plague, the return of rain after an extended drought.
The rabbis of the Talmud recount more spectacular miracles, including a notable instance of alleged resurrection after one inadvertently killed another during a long day of Purim drinking, but the era of open miracles was largely believed to be over. Henceforth, miracles would occur through nature, including human action.
Catholicism, on the other hand, preaches no such belief in the disappearance of dazzling miracles. One of the many qualifications for sainthood is the performance of miracles, which is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “a sign or wonder such as a healing, or control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power.”  That often takes the form of the instant and lasting healing of someone with a serious medical condition, either a life-threatening illness or a longstanding physical ailment. The precedent for such miracles was set by the stories of Jesus and his miracles, which constituted not just the ultra-flashy turning water into wine, walking on water, and feeding multitudes with very little food, but also healing the ill wherever he went.
For centuries, Catholic monarchs, as divine rulers, attempted to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and heal their sick citizens. Though that practice fell out of fashion with feudalism, the belief in miracles aimed to alleviate suffering continue to be a cornerstone of
Similarly, miracles in Islam are a means of confirming the status of one who claims to be a prophet or apostle. Per Muslim scholar A.J. Wensinck in the Encyclopedia of Islam, miracles must meet six specific criteria:
1.            It must come from God
2.            It must be in some way different from the usual order of things (unnatural/supernatural)
3.            It must be impossible to contradict it
4.            It must be performed by the person claiming to be a prophet/apostle
5.            It must align with that person’s proclamation and the miracle itself must not be a disavowal of his claim
6.            It must follow that person’s claim
Miracles are also divided into two categories: Karamat and Mu'jizat, the latter of which are only performed by prophets. Some of both kinds have been recorded, including covering a long distance in a short amount of time, averting an incoming calamity, walking on water, and making food and clothes appear in a time of need. Thus, the three Abrahamic religions are unified in their view of miracles as, at least at times, related to survival and well being.
In both Buddhism and Hinduism, in contrast, miracles are more connected to the mind. In Hinduism, miracles, such as the resurrection of Lord Ganesh by Lord Shiva, are viewed as either literal or a means to convey messages. Miracles are also argued to be merely those things that the perceiver does not understand, placing the designation of “miracle” status in the hands of the beholder of instances that might be explained by hidden capacities that most humans have not accessed. In Buddhism, the mind is central to miracles as well: they are the result of advanced meditation. Miracles are divided into three categories: psychic powers, telepathy, and instruction. The Buddha warned against the use of the first two due to the threat of self-glorification in the performance of supernatural abilities as well as the possibility that onlookers could mistake those performances for mere tricks. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the third sort of miracle, that of instruction, converting through teaching.
by Haia R’nana Bchiri
Associate Dramaturg, In Every Generation

Tickets to In Every Generation by Ali Viterbi are on sale now.

In Every Generation is part of JFest 2022, the 29th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival. Celebrate Jewish music, theatre, art and culture this summer. Explore the full JFest line-up here.
This article is part of The Curious Report, an in-depth guide created to enhance your experience of the Rep’s work by deep-diving into the themes and context surrounding each play.
Image: Moses Parting the Red Sea, by Robert T. Barrett