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    Holy of holies in the Song of Songs

    The year is punctuated by five Megillot. On Pesach we read Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, a series of poems of springtime love and renewal. Its mood does not entirely fit the Australian autumn, but in Israel it expresses the magnificent moments of spring when nature replaces the gloom of winter by brightness, happiness and new growth.

    There are some who are unmoved by the dignity and beauty of nature and cannot sense the splendour of God’s Creation. If only they would read Shir HaShirim; its unfolding chapters would the ability to marvel and wonder and enable us to echo the prayer of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:

    “Lord of the World! May it always be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees, the grasses, and all growing things; there may I be alone and pray and talk to Him to whom I belong. May I express there everything that is in my heart. May all the foliage of the field awake at my coming, and send the power of their life into the words of my prayer…”

    Shir HaShirim reinforces the conviction that there really is a God. The classical philosophers had standard proofs of His existence, the cosmological (“first cause”) argument; the teleological (the argument from design); the ontological (the argument from perfection). All three, especially the first two, are found in Judaism. But these are not mathematically conclusive, and on their own they are unlikely to persuade the atheist or agnostic.

    The Jewish approach is not so much through argument as through encounter. A person who has experienced God needs no academic argumentation. God is too much a reality for that.

    You encounter Him in nature (AJ Cronin said an old gardener in Italy told him, “I see my cherry trees in bud, then in flower, then in fruit. Then I believe in God.”)

    You encounter Him in human life, when you experience the guiding hand or the compelling conscience, when you are moved by the power of love or the capacity of the human mind.

    You encounter God in Jewish history (the sages said that at the Red Sea the humblest handmaid saw more of God than even Ezekiel did in his prophetic visions).

    Our post-Holocaust age finds belief difficult. After such horror, suffering and pain – how can there be a God? It’s an old question. Jews have often called upon God to explain Himself. It is also a new question; the Holocaust is an unprecedented calamity.

    Shir HaShirim implies that there are two questions, not one: not only, how can there be a God? but also, how can there not be a God? There is not only a problem of evil; there is also a problem of good. The more you read Shir HaShirim, the more you see God shine from every leaf in nature and every loving impulse in the human heart.

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