Chabad is influenced by the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, a great Jew of 18th-century Eastern Europe who loved his people with an immeasurable passion. The calamities of his time had created a situation in which there were many simple Jews who had no learning and little knowledge, alongside great scholars who looked askance at the ignorance of these commoners. The Baal Shem Tov taught us to look deeper, beyond the knowledge of a person, beyond his outward behavior, into the depths of his heart, to find there the divine spark and reveal it with unconditional love.
Today things are different and the same. There are not as many simple Jews, but there are plenty of very complicated ones. Our Torah scholars cannot be compared to the scholars of those times, but the chasm remains, this fissure that sometimes lies between the Jews that rest on Shabbat and those who do not yet know its beauty, between those that cherish the wisdom of Torah and those who are looking elsewhere instead.
The approach of Chabad today mirrors that of the Baal Shem Tov in his time: Look past the outward person and trust in the soul deep inside. You may disapprove of everything he does, and his outlook on life may be the opposite of everything you believe. Don’t argue with him. Instead, be one with him. Unconditionally. You enjoy Shabbat–enjoy it with him. You find solace and counsel in the wisdom of Torah–talk to your holy brothers and sisters about that wisdom in their own language, on their own terms. And if he or she does not change one iota, that is irrelevant. You have done your job of love. Two Jews became one and that is all that matters.
A Chabad House, then, is a center established to facilitate all of the above. A Chabad House will generally host classes, lectures, and workshops on Jewish topics; religious services; Shabbat meals; and special events as needed in that community. Counseling services, the Friendship Circle for physically or mentally challenged children, and other volunteer services are common. Most often a Chabad House does not charge membership–if you are Jewish, you are a member.
The Jewish People, the Zohar tells, is the heart of all the nations. When there is love and oneness among us, peace and harmony enter the entire world. When our light is pure and focused, the darkness in their hearts is pushed away as well. And so this is the mandate of Chabad: To create light for the sake of light, just by doing good for the sake of doing good, until all the world is filled with the serene light of G-dly wisdom “as the waters cover the ocean floor.”