Thinking eclectic thoughts with Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan

Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan
Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan (Photo courtesy of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan)

Two years ago, BB&T Bank and SunTrust Bank merged into a single entity: Truist Bank. Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan took note of the change. Why? Not just because he banked at SunTrust. The dropping of the word “trust” provided him a hook for an essay.

“It gave me an opportunity to write about trusting God,” said Kaplan, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland.

His essays follow that same basic format. “I take something which is contemporary or something that I’ve seen, because it catches people’s interest. My objective is to teach Judaism, but you’ve got to give them a good taste first in order for people to want to follow it.”

Every week for six years, without fail, Kaplan, 71, has emailed a short, original essay to about 100 people. He’s compiled 200 of them into a book, “Eclectic Thoughts of Meaning: Finding Significance in The Common,” which was published in December.

As the first emissary of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in Maryland, Kaplan, along with his wife, Rochel, oversaw the establishment of 33 Chabad centers in the state. Kaplan grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and came to Maryland in 1974. He is headquartered in Pikesville.

Kaplan hosts the weekly radio program “Awake, Alive, and Jewish,” which is broadcast in greater Washington. And he cohosts “Diana, Mike, and the Rabbi,” a weekly TV program on public access stations in the Washington-Baltimore area.

Kaplan started writing his essays as another way to connect with people. For many years he traveled daily to the Washington area to meet with supporters. As he got older, the trips became more difficult to make. The essays became a way to stay in touch.

“It’s a way of thanking them for their support. And so it’s got to be something exclusive. Otherwise, it doesn’t have that value,” Kaplan said. “It’s been a very good medium.”

Each essay, which Kaplan calls a blog, is about 500 words long. He said he’s inspired by Jewish texts, philosophy and “worldly information,” such as current events.

Between Judaism and the news, Kaplan will “often see some connection between the two. And that spurs me.”

Kaplan focuses his writing on a single idea or message. His aim is to create a short and easy read, “just enough so that nobody gets bored with it and doesn’t lose their interest.”

Writing each post takes about two hours, but the hardest part is coming up with ideas.

“I have a much healthier respect for columnists who write every single week. It’s an undertaking,” Kaplan said. “It’s a strange thing. Sometimes you can try and try and nothing comes. And sometimes they just pop out. That’s in God’s hands.”

The book is organized into nine sections: Life Lessons, True Education, Heal Thyself!, The Unique ‘I’, Nature and Climate, Observations, Torah and Spirituality, The Jewish Calendar and Current Events.

Essay titles include “Death, a Perspective,” “Humans vs. Galaxies: Quality vs. Quantity,” “On Bitcoin and Fundamental Investments” and “For Every Breath Praise G-d.”

“I want people to understand the way Judaism has a way of looking at all different subjects, all different matters, the breadth and scope of Judaism,” he said. “Our Torah is so all embracing and all including. And that you just need to find the connection.”

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