Gitty Stolik is on a mission to spread joy. Last year she wrote her first book – “It’s Okay to Laugh, Seriously!” – and is now completing her second book, on simcha. A former high-school teacher, Stolik now works with young special-needs children and is the editor of “Our Vogue,” an annual four-page publication on tznius (modesty).
The Jewish Press: What inspired you to write It’s Okay to Laugh, Seriously!?
Stolik: There were two catalysts. The earlier catalyst occurred 25 years when one of my sons came home with a printout of a quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe said that we’ve done everything we can to bring Mashiach; the one thing we haven’t tried yet is pure joy. I was very intrigued by that.
The second catalyst was a phone call many years later from a friend of mine. She said, “Your mechutan is a genius” and started telling me about her daughter’s teacher – one of my mechutanim – who used humor to drive home his lessons. He would make the girls roll with laughter. At that moment, I realized humor was very powerful and holy, and decided to write a book about it.
What exactly is the role of laughter in Judaism?
The Gemara says that Rava would preface his Torah lessons with a humorous anecdote and thus open his students’ minds to receive the lofty words of Torah. The mystical sources tell us that the origin of laughter – which comes from pleasure – is actually deeper than wisdom.
Many people cite a statement in the Gemara that we shouldn’t laugh during galus. But I provide [other] Torah sources that it’s okay. The Lubavitcher Rebbe actually explained that now that we’re living so close to Mashiach we have permission to laugh. The Breslover Rebbe said that simcha is so important that a person can even do silly things to bring himself to a state of simcha. The point, though, is to bring yourself closer to God.
But humor and laughter are very powerful and need to be used carefully. They are like the incense that killed the sons of Aharon who offered it outside its proper context. They have to be used with a holy intention. Humor should not be used to make fun of people. We have to laugh with people, not against them. We should use laughter to make our life more joyous so that we can serve God better.
How can people be joyous when life often throws difficulties our way – family problems, financial problems, health problems, etc.?
There are two kinds of joy. There’s galus joy, which is a tool for survival, and there’s a joy to bring geulah, redemption. There are also two kinds of songs – songs of yearning and songs of jubilation. Battles are won with joy, not tears. A soldier enters the fray of battle to the tune of a joyous march. So for us to be victorious over the galus, we need joy.
Galus and tzarus are compared to darkness while joy is compared to light. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said the fact that we’re still in galus is a sign that we have not yet brought out enough light. When we bring out enough light, we will “outpower” the darkness and nullify it.
One more point I’d like to make: The world has existed for 5,777 years. Each thousand years is a millennia and each millennia corresponds to a day of the week. The seventh millennia is one of everlasting Shabbos – Mashiach. We are now living in the sixth millennia, which corresponds to Friday. What do you find in a Jewish home in preparation for Shabbos? All the goodies laid out on the counter. You can walk in and cut yourself a piece of delicious kugel. It’s ready to eat. Similarly, since we’re so close now to the last millennia, the delicacies of that millennia are already available to us for sampling. And one of those major delicacies is joy. We have an extra channel of joy available to us because we’re so close.
You put out a publication on tznius – Our Vogue – every year. Why?
Tznius is very important, and we’re living in times when the challenge is very great. Our Vogue does not tell people what to do; it just offers inspirational articles that shine a light on what it’s all about. Tznius is not just a set of laws. There’s so much beauty in tznius. It’s a relationship between ourselves and God – even when nobody’s in the room.
Some people complain that there is too much emphasis on tznius to the exclusion of other mitzvos. How would you respond?
When the Jews were in the midbar, Balak tried to undermine them by hiring Bilaam to curse them. When that didn’t work, he was desperate, so he aimed at the tznius heart of the Jewish people [causing them to sin with the women of Moav]. So when all else fails, the satan attacks through tznius.
And maybe that’s because although women are now considered secondary to men, when the geulah comes, everything will be reversed. A woman’s spiritual origin is actually higher than a man’s, and anything that’s higher, and more pure, and more holy, has to be hidden more. That’s why a Sefer Torah is covered – because it’s so precious and valuable.
All six of your sons are Chabad shluchim. What’s it like to be their mother? Did you raise them to take on this mission of outreach?
I raised them to be the best Jews and chassidim they could be. My daughters are not on shlichus, but even if a Lubavitcher is not on shlichus, he still thinks, “What am I here for?” We know we’re not here for ourselves. And that’s also what joy is – we’re not here for ourselves. Unhappiness is a relationship with oneself; simcha is a relationship with God.
So what makes a shliach different from a regular Lubavitcher, or a Torah-observant Jew?
I think every Jew knows he’s here to make the world a better place, but the Rebbe empowered his chassidim to take upon themselves things that are not humanly possible. He taught that when you undertake goals that don’t seem possible, you open new channels. That’s the way shluchim operate. That’s the only way they operate. They don’t operate on reality.