With Rabbi Ariel ABEL 

What does the Torah say about… celebrity deaths?

The world of acting was rocked last month with news of the untimely death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Found dead in his bathroom at the age of 46, Hoffman had been taking prescription drugs and heroin. So what does the Torah say about celebrity drug taking?

Purim is the closest Jews get to substance abuse.

The greatest celebrities in the world and Jewish history earned infamy by indulging excessively in drink.

Noah drank heavily on his exit from the Ark. This resulted in a shameful episode, in which Noah was humiliated by his son Ham.

Noah cursed his grandson from Ham, Canaan.

According to our sages, Noah suffered not only the indignity of nakedness in his drunken state, but also castration.

In a postdiluvian devastation of a depopulated world, Noah was now unable to have children to assist in its repopulation.

Elah, King of Israel drank so much that his enemy Zimri was able to walk into his palace and murder him, thus usurping the northern kingdom.

The inhabitants of the northern kingdom were reprimanded for drinking orgies. A drunken state is not always roundly condemned, although there is usually a sting in the tail.

Joseph’s brothers drank too much in his presence, and there is no indication that this was in itself a negative thing.

However, Joseph took advantage of their impaired state of awareness and planted his goblet in Benjamin’s sack. This caused much grief when they were later called back to account for the missing goblet.

Substance abuse causes the pathways of the brain to change and neurons begin to behave in unpredictable ways.

The loss of control is a serious act of tampering with the way free will has been given to us. Following the taking of drugs, a human being is not able to make rational decisions in relation to their surroundings.

This would render a person invalid from reciting prayers that require concentration of the mind and an awareness of being in the presence of the divine.

Purim is seen by some as a time during which alcohol or smoking is permitted to teenagers. However, this sets a dangerous precedent and bad habits have been known to start on Purim.

Parents must set a good example and be vigilant with their children’s behaviour, especially in a world in which celebrities often fail to set a good moral and safe example of personal conduct.