Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim works with all peo­ple of Am Israel in sup­port­ing their health, spir­i­tual evo­lu­tion, con­nec­tion with HaShem, and Enlightenment.

Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim’s Approach

Offerings Shabbat 6Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim is a unique com­mu­nity of teach­ing and sup­port­ing peo­ple to expe­ri­ence the spir­i­tual power of prophetic and lib­er­a­tion Judaism based the Great Torah Way. All ser­vices are free to the greater com­mu­nity of Am Israel. We are the only syn­a­gogue in South­ern Ari­zona south of Tucson.

Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim teaches Judaism as a full, authen­tic, spiral-historical, and Torah lib­er­a­tion path to enlight­en­ment. It embraces heart­felt Ortho­dox obser­vance (shomer Shab­bat, all the mitzvoth pos­si­ble, prayer three times daily, and Shema twice daily). At the same time it has a “mod­ern” or “con­tem­po­rary” aspect, which is refin­ing the min­hag tra­di­tions to address the imbal­ances of the cur­rent world. For exam­ple, this includes refin­ing min­hag that have become dan­ger­ous to our health sec­on­dar­ily to envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion and radi­a­tion, such as tra­di­tion­ally eat­ing fish, chicken, and meat for Shab­bat and Hol­i­days. Con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers, as in the Torah tra­di­tion, are encour­aged to move into this level of ortho­dox obser­vance at a rate they are ready for. We also place a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on the halakah as not only a sanc­ti­fy­ing and a tra­di­tional pro­tec­tion from the dark side but also a holis­tic, Torah-based lifestyle as an ele­vated heroic response to the planet’s peren­nial degen­er­ate chal­lenges. We empha­size lives of prayer, med­i­ta­tion, char­ity, ser­vice, Torah study and application.

The Great Torah Way, taught at Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim, helps us under­stand that we are multi-dimensional beings inte­grat­ing the merg­ing of the heav­ens and earth in a spir­i­tu­ally art­ful, heart-wisdom (binah halev) and Hashem guided walk between the B’limah (Noth­ing) and the Mah (Something).

In accord with the prophecy and direc­tive of Yoel 3:4, one of our main Torah prac­tices is rep­e­ti­tion of the name of HaShem (Tetra­gram­ma­ton) constantly.

  • Yoel 3:4 says, “And it shall come to pass, that whoso­ever shall call on the name of HaShem shall be deliv­ered.”
  • She­mot 20:21 says, “Wher­ever I allow My Name to be men­tioned, I will come to you and bless you.”
  • Tehillim 16:8 says, “Sh’viti Hashem l’negdi tamid,” mean­ing, “I will keep The Name before me at all times.”

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Repeat­ing the name of HaShem (hagiya) even­tu­ally leads one to expe­ri­enc­ing one­self, the Torah, and HaShem as One. This expe­ri­en­tial aware­ness has the power to move one into hit­la­havut (ecsta­tic burn­ing love of God); hit­pash­tut (abil­ity and power to expand one’s con­scious­ness in any direc­tion); hitalvut (equal vision); and ulti­mately histalkut (dying into the Noth­ing). These states bring one into the con­scious­ness of Deveikut/Chey’rut, which even­tu­ally, by the grace of HaShem, becomes our steady super­nor­mal state.

Repeat­ing the name of HaShem is the first step of prophetic med­i­ta­tion (hit­bo­nenut) lead­ing to a silent mind. The Bal Shem Tov wrote in Tzava‘at Hari­vash that med­i­ta­tion is seven times more impor­tant than Torah study. The foun­da­tion of prophetic med­i­ta­tion goes back to Devarim 34:9 where it says, “Yehoshua son of Nun was filled with a spirit of wis­dom, because Moshe had laid his hands on him,” and in Shemu’el 16:13 where it says, “Then Shemu’el took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his broth­ers: and the spirit of HaShem came upon David from that day onwards.” Shemu’el 19:20–21 says, “And Sha’ul sent mes­sen­gers to take David: and when they saw the band of the prophets proph­esy­ing, and Shemu’el sta­tioned over them, the Ruach Elo­him came upon the mes­sen­gers of Sha’ul, and they also proph­e­sied.”

The Great Torah Way has three levels:

1)     Mitzvoth and Halakah, as sum­ma­rized in both: Amos 5:4, “Seek HaShem and live,” and Habakkuk 2:4, “The right­eous (or just) per­son shall live by faith in God alone.” A fuller under­stand­ing of the mitzvoth and halakah ask of us that we cre­ate sacred­ness in every aspect of our lives and nat­u­rally strengthen and develop our char­ac­ter (midot). This Torah way of life includes tzedakah, tef­fi­lah, teshuva, omez (spir­i­tual courage), kavod (honor, dig­nity, self-respect), arvut (respon­si­bil­ity), and mus­sar (morals, ethics, and spir­i­tual dis­ci­pline). These qual­i­ties help cre­ate berur (clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the nature of absolute real­ity), which empow­ers one to see through alma d’peruda (world of dual­ity) and alma d’shikrah (world of illu­sion). They help us to begin to under­stand koach mah (power of what) and koach ha me da mei (power of simil­i­tude as things appear and dis­ap­pear into the Noth­ing). Thus we are able to pen­e­trate into the essence of cre­ation, which is ayn zulato – HaShem is ONE. From this one­ness apper­cep­tion we nat­u­rally begin to relate to human­ity and the liv­ing earth more pro­foundly such as with deeply know­ing the impor­tance of pro­tect­ing the environment.

2)     Ham­taka (sweet­ness) and intense love of God includ­ing nesikat deveikut (divine kiss) and the aware­ness of yehudim (lib­er­at­ing the light of God in all cre­ation). It also empow­ers t’shekut deveikut (divine urge).

3)     These then spon­ta­neously lead to achdut (the direct knowl­edge of HaShem). This is a post–berur state in which there is only HaShem (ayn zulato and ayn od mil­vado). At the achdut level there is a con­stant illu­mi­nated empti­ness (bitul ha’esh). In this great empti­ness we become the flow of HaShem mov­ing through us as the indi­vid­ual expres­sion of the Divine Will (keter). Even­tu­ally this spon­ta­neously leads us into histalkut (dying into the Noth­ing) while still in the phys­i­cal body; it is a mys­ti­cal death in the play of the world.

The Great Torah Way frees us from the slav­ery of the occult dark­ness world and of our own minds so that we may become the expres­sion of the Divine in the world. The Great Torah Way sup­plies an answer to the ques­tion posed in Tehillim 15:1, “Lord, who shall abide in thy tent? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”

Although one can­not eat one’s way to HaShem, the orig­i­nal Torah diet as defined by Beresheit (Gen­e­sis) 1:29 is a pow­er­ful sup­port to Deveikut –

And G-d said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yield­ing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yield­ing seed–to you it shall be for food”.

This plant-source-only, live-food diet nat­u­rally helps us per­form the fol­low­ing mitzvoth:

  • Pikuach Nefesh – (pre­serve and pro­tect human life)
  • V’nishmartem meod l’nafshotechem — “Be extremely pro­tec­tive of your lives.” (Deuteron­omy 4:15) (This means pre­serv­ing all life on the planet, includ­ing humanity.)
  • Sh’mirat Haguf — pre­serv­ing the health of the body
  • Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim – non-cruelty and com­pas­sion to animals
  • Bal Tashit – pre­serve and pro­tect the Ecology
  • Tzedakah — Charity/Service
  • Shalom – peace and harmony
  • Kol Israel — pro­tec­tion and preser­va­tion of the community
  • Deveikut/Chey’rut Kedusha – Holi­ness and Enlightenment

A plant-source-only, live-food diet also hon­ors the last 5 of the Ten Speak­ings (Ten Commandments):

  • Do not mur­der. (6th speak­ing) (Do not kill ani­mals for ones own self­ish    appetite.)
  • Do not bear false wit­ness. (7th speak­ing) (Do not gos­sip or slander.)
  • Do not steal. (8th speak­ing) (Do not steal lives, fur, flesh, and skin of others.)
  • Do not com­mit adul­tery. (9th speak­ing) (Do not com­mit sex­ual per­ver­sion,           which includes cross species arti­fi­cial insemination.)
  • Do not covet. (10th speak­ing) (Ani­mal agri­cul­ture rep­re­sents exces­sive     con­sump­tion and thus cov­et­ing the land, water, and air of the world             population.)

This also includes:

  • Do not pol­lute the pub­lic com­mons. (Deuteron­omy 23: 10–15) (Ani­mal agri­cul­ture is a polluter.)

The great Jew­ish sages through­out his­tory sup­port our teach­ing about the impor­tance of build­ing and main­tain­ing phys­i­cal health for sup­port­ing spir­i­tual heath.

  • …the soul can­not func­tion on earth with­out the body. Thus one must safe­guard phys­i­cal health for ill­ness of the body weak­ens the soul.” ~ Tzava’at Hari­vash – The Teach­ings of the Bal Shem Tov
  • The Bal Shem Tov wrote in his Tzava’at Hari­vash,“When the body ails, the soul too is weak­ened, and one is unable to pray prop­erly, even when clear of sins. Thus, you must guard the health of your body very carefully.”
  • Mag­gid of Mezhirech said, “A small hole in the body causes a big hole in the soul.” (Mag­gid Devarav Leya’akev Addenda sect. 91)
  • Mai­monides said in Hil­chot De’ot (3:3 and 4:1), “The wel­fare of the soul can only be achieved after attend­ing to the wel­fare of the body.”
  • The impor­tance of safe­guard­ing one’s health is not just good advice; it is actual Torah law, a fun­da­men­tal, prac­ti­cal obser­vance which sup­ports our entire Torah path. RaM­BaM writes in ever so many places about the impor­tance and oblig­a­tion of robust phys­i­cal health. RaM­BaM clearly expresses to us why the mitz­vah of good health is of such vital spir­i­tual impor­tance. In his Hilkhot Deot (4:1) he writes, “Since main­tain­ing a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d, for one can­not under­stand or have any knowl­edge of the Cre­ator if he is ill, there­fore, one must avoid that which harms the body and accus­tom one­self to that which is healthy and helps the body become stronger.”
  • RaM­BaM states in Deot 5:2, “One should eat food that is healthy for one’s body.”
  • The foun­da­tion of all foun­da­tions and the pil­lar of all wis­dom is knowl­edge of the Cre­ator…” (Mai­monides, Hil­chot Yesodei HaTorah 1:1) In other words, Mai­monides is sum­ma­riz­ing the essence of the Great Torah Way, which is our first pri­or­ity as Jews is to know God. If overeat­ing is the major source of phys­i­cal ill­ness, and that phys­i­cal ill­ness pre­vents us from hav­ing “knowl­edge of the Cre­ator”, then glut­tony and obe­sity are must be con­sid­ered sins, which sep­a­rate us from HaShem. With this under­stand­ing the intake of “junk food” and GMOs are also for­bid­den by Torah law because of its inher­ent dan­ger to phys­i­cal health, which may effec­tively block full God-knowledge.

We are a drug-free com­mu­nity (with the excep­tion of cer­e­mo­nial use of wine). Our drug-free teach­ing is in accord with the Torah teach­ing regard­ing Nadav and Avihu found in Vayikra 10:8–11,

God spoke to Aharon, say­ing: When you enter the Com­mu­nion Tent, nei­ther    you nor your descen­dants may drink wine or any other intox­i­cant; oth­er­wise  you will die. This is an eter­nal law for all your gen­er­a­tions. [You will thus be able] to dis­tin­guish between the holy and the com­mon, and between the rit­u­ally unclean and the clean.”

Accord­ing to Midrashic teach­ings, Nadav and Avihu (b’nei Aharon) were intox­i­cated before God, and this is at least one major rea­son they died. (Vayikra Raba 20)

Holis­tic Eco­log­i­cal Emphasis

Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim’s phys­i­cal tem­ple is com­pletely “off grid”, as are the rest of the facil­i­ties and farm. We are also using var­i­ous meth­ods of water col­lec­tion, and all our new build­ings are straw-bale and nat­ural. The tem­ple itself is a straw-bale struc­ture with a pressed dirt floor. It is per­haps the only fully eco­log­i­cally built tem­ple of its kind in the United States. It is part of our fully eco­log­i­cal har­mo­nious align­ment with the liv­ing planet. We live not as stew­ards (which implies sep­a­ra­tion from the liv­ing earth), but as part of the liv­ing Earth in oneness.

Facilities Temple 1

We have a sev­eral acre farm using organic, sus­tain­able, veg­anic farm­ing tech­nol­ogy, which allows us to eat almost all of our veg­eta­bles freshly picked within a few hours to a few days of har­vest. With veg­anic farm­ing there is no death or ani­mal exploita­tion. Our café is cer­ti­fied kashrut. We teach kashrut as a way of eat­ing in holi­ness, which uplifts and hon­ors the web of life on the planet. A vegan dietary approach gives a no death asso­ci­a­tion with the food, as this pro­tects our taharah. As part of our eco­log­i­cal approach we dis­cour­age bal tashit (waste­ful­ness of resources) and pre­serve our ecol­ogy through our organic, veg­anic, sus­tain­able farm­ing and solar pow­ered elec­tric­ity in our tem­ple, admin­is­tra­tion build­ings, and water wells. It is also sig­nif­i­cant that ani­mal agri­cul­ture appears to be the biggest source of global warm­ing gases such as CO2, methane (which is 29 times more global warm­ing than CO2), and NO2 (which is 296 times more global warm­ing than CO2). Each acre of an organic farm actu­ally pulls 3,700 lbs of CO2 out of the atmos­phere each year back into the soil. We see the use of oil and coal as unnec­es­sar­ily deplet­ing the blood and bones of the planet, which is anti­thet­i­cal to liv­ing in har­mony and one­ness with our­selves as the liv­ing planet for this rea­son Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim has never finan­cially invested in oil, coal, or gas.

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Con­gre­ga­tion Etz Chaim is located on 181 acres of land, at an alti­tude of 4,050 feet, nes­tled within the pris­tine nat­ural set­ting of the Moun­tain Empire of Patag­o­nia, Ari­zona, about an hour south of Tuc­son. We are the same lat­i­tude as the City of Jerusalem. Des­ig­nated as the 4th high­est qual­ity of air in the coun­try, our rural high desert envi­ron­ment pro­vides the ideal con­text for heal­ing and spir­i­tual con­nec­tion. The expan­sive night skies, close­ness to nature, and sacred silence inspire a pro­found inward jour­ney. By liv­ing in the coun­try we also ful­fill one of the direc­tions of the Great Torah Way, which is to live where we can be most con­nected to nature.