What is the Chabad Movement? 

A Bit of Background - Before Chabad

Over one thousand years had passed since the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people from the Holy Land of Israel. Hardship and persecution had followed them everywhere they went including such tragedies as the crusades (between 1095-1291) and the expulsion of the Jewish communities of England (in 1290) and Spain (in 1492). In 1648-49 pogroms led by Khmelnitsky devastated European Jewry.  

Exploiting the despair felt by so many, the infamous Shabbtai Tzvi, a charismatic and delusional individual, led many to believe that he was the long-awaited Messiah. After his exposure as a fraud, many Jews were left destitute and heartbroken with nowhere to turn.

This terrible state of affairs left many Jews struggling just to stay alive and many were forced to abandon Torah study at a young age. This led to a deep schism in the Jewish community, the scholars and the unlearned folk. The division widened over the years as each group looked down on the other, to the extent that in many towns there were separate synagogues for the learned and separate synagogues for the simple people.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov - Born in 1698.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, introduced new life and vitality to the Jewish people. At the young of five he was orphaned of both his parents. His father’s final words to him were, “Never fear anyone other than G‑d. Love every Jew with all your heart and soul, no matter who he is.” These simple but powerful words served as a guiding light in his life and helped shape his unique perspective.

Over the years as his fame as a scholar and a saint grew, he introduced the basic tenets of Chassidic teachings, eventually becoming known as the founder of Chassidism. One of his central teachings was that of specific divine providence over all of creation. In addition the Baal Shem Tov set about deconstructing the prevailing attitudes regarding the lay-people. He emphasized that every person has a soul, an essential portion of G‑d and it’s this soul that truly defines the person.

What is Chabad?

A student of these teachings was Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. In 1772 he established the Chabad movement. Chabad, an acronym for Chochma bina and daat – wisdom, understanding and knowledge, introduced an intellectual approach to understanding G‑dliness, uniting heart and mind in the service of G‑d.

Building on the basis of the Baal Shem Tov teachings, Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught that our actions don’t define our essence rather we each have a mundane aspect of our souls and a holy aspect. People are not characterized as selfless or selfish, holy or unholy. Instead, he taught, that at every moment we have the ability to choose to exercise the holy. We must ask ourselves, how will I dedicate this very moment? Which part of myself will I express? Will it be my selfless soul or will it be my selfish “animal” ego.   
For serving G‑d and life in general is not about holy people doing holy things, it’s about unholy people doing holy things.

The Rebbe.

Over the years, the Chabad movement grew exponentially and affected the thought and approach of the Jewish community in Europe and Israel. In 1950 the Rebbe took on the leadership of Chabad, expanding it’s reach to even the small outlying communities. Quoting the teachings of his predecessors over the years, the Rebbe emphasized that this world is essentially good and that we have a mission to reveal the goodness and the G‑dliness in the world.

These foundational concepts, especially the unique perspective on finding the good within each person, spurred the growth of Chabad outreach around the world until today there are over 4000 centers worldwide. Known for their unconditional love and respect for every individual, Chabad is not an organization, it has a heart, it’s a movement that continues to grow.
Chabad Lubavitch of Sunny Isles Beach, a branch of this world-wide movement.