Life after life – 2: Dybbuk – The Spirit of a Dead Person Entering the Body

Although incidents of dybukks have been reported for centuries, we will focus in this chapter on documented cases from recent generations, beginning with a report that I first heard during a lecture I gave in Ir Ganim neighborhood in Jerusalem, in the fall of 1999.

During my talk, a woman in the audience requested an explanation for a strange phenomenon that she had seen. While spending the Sabbath with relatives, a woman living in the house suddenly fell down on her bed. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets in a manner that frightened everyone greatly. The woman’s voice changed, deepening slightly, and she began to speak in a heavy Arabic accent. As she talked, she mentioned a number of household items that had recently disappeared and revealed their exact locations. Among them, she mentioned to the guest (the woman who told me this story) that her son’s lost shoe was under the bed. When someone checked, the shoe was indeed there. The guest stood frozen in fear by the front door, ready to flee the house if needed. Then the woman's husband entered, apologizing profusely that he had failed to inform the guests about his wife’s occasional tendency towards these passing incidents. And indeed, after a short time, the woman recovered, stood up, and began acting completely normally without any recollection of what had happened. Until my lecture that evening, the woman relating this event had never heard of the concept of a dybbuk. 

 Now we come to more detailed reports of this phenomenon. We open with the words of the famous Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Schwadron of Jerusalem, who recorded what he had heard from his teacher, Rabbi Eliyahu Deuschnitzer, a righteous and holy man, whom the Torah leader Rabbi Chazon Ish (1878-1953) called one of the thirty-six righteous men of his generation. These are the words of Rabbi Schwadron, in the book Lev Eliyahu, page 23:

“This is what my master and teacher, Rabbi Eliyahu Deuschnitzer told me: You can and should teach this story to as many people as possible. You can also say that I told it to you exactly as I heard it from the famous scholar, our master and teacher, Rabbi Elazar Moshe of Pinsk. Now, you know me – that I do not lie, God forbid, nor do I exaggerate or add details to any matter. I am merely repeating word for word what I have heard from Rabbi Elazar Moshe.

Here is the story: There was once a man living in Kelm, a merchant and Torah scholar, by the name of Rabbi Neta. He had one daughter whom he engaged to a young man, who was an outstanding yeshivah student and Torah scholar. The father gave them a large dowry of several thousand rubles, in addition to promising to support them for several years after the wedding, so that the bridegroom could devote his time to Torah study during this time. 

When this period came to an end and the couple stopped receiving financial support, the wife began to wonder how they would make a living. The husband explained that it would be impossible for him to stop studying Torah full-time and find a job, for that would be like throwing away all of his previous Torah learning. The wife, though, had an idea: 'Let’s take the dowry that my father gave us and open a store. I will be there everyday, besides two hours a day when you will be in charge. All the rest of the time you can continue studying Torah just as you did until now.' And so they agreed on a plan. The first three months went just as they had intended, but then the husband’s two hours became four, and the four hours became eight, until he was at the store the whole time. He didn’t even have enough time to open a book. 

One Saturday night, after midnight, a fierce blizzard was raging outside. (I am telling this account in the words and in the exact form in that I heard it from my teacher.) The wife went outside to empty a bucket of dirty water and returned to the house choking and unable to speak. Her husband ran to fetch a doctor, but the doctor didn’t know what to do. The next day her husband took her to other doctors, and even to specialists in Vienna, but nothing helped. Rumors spread that it might be a dybbuk. 

They traveled to the village of Stutchin, in Galicia, to the home of a Kabbalist by the name of Rabbi Mendel, to whom people would travel in order to treat such matters. 

When they arrived, Rabbi Mendel asked the dybbuk something and heard a voice answer. (Whenever the dybbuk would speak, the woman’s stomach would swell up, but her lips would not move as the voice emerged – this according to my master and teacher of blessed memory). Everyone there was frightened and said: 'Ah! Here is the dybbuk!' 

But the righteous Rabbi Mendel wondered if it really was a dybbuk. So he asked it: 'Who goes with you? (i. e., are you bound to a particular soul?)' And it said: 'Five destroying angels.' 'What are their names?' he asked it. It told him their names, and Rabbi Mendel agreed that this was indeed a real dybbuk. 

He began to ask it questions about who it was and where it came from and so on. It answered him that it had lived several decades ago (I don’t remember exactly how many), and that it had been a young man from the town of Brisk. The young man had traveled to Africa, where his friends had a bad influence on him, and he ended up transgressing all the laws of the Torah. Once he was traveling in a carriage and fell out and was killed. His spirit had wandered throughout the world until that very day. 

Rabbi Mendel asked him why he had not repented of his deeds in the seconds before he died. He responded that in his fear and surprise during the fall, he had forgotten to repent. 

Afterwards, he asked the spirit why it had chosen this woman out of all possible victims upon whom to inflict such suffering. It began to laugh, saying that the mother of the woman and the mother of the husband (both of whom had already died) had pressed heaven to bring suffering upon her so that she would not suffer even more in this world or the world-to-come, because she had caused her husband to stop studying Torah. 

When he heard this, Rabbi Mendel asked the husband to promise that he would return to Torah study, and the husband promised. Rabbi Neta also promised to study sections of the Mishnah in memory of the young man who had become a dybbuk – in addition to dedicating a certain number of candles to be lit in the synagogue in his memory. 

Then Rabbi Mendel gathered a quorum of ten men in his room to recite Psalms while he stood in the back of the room and recited certain phrases. He sat the woman in a chair in the middle of the room, and suddenly she rolled out of the chair, fell on the ground, and a loud voice emerged from her saying Shema Yisrael. A fingernail of one of her pinkies split (where the dybbuk left her body), and a pane of glass broke in a nearby window. Then all was quiet again.

This is what my master and teacher Rabbi Eliyahu Deuschnitzer told me. He repeated himself that it was appropriate to tell this account in his name, and reminded me that we knew that he never lied nor exaggerate facts, God forbid. He reiterated that he was transmitting the story exactly as he had heard it from Rabbi Elazar Moshe. 

Then my master and teacher added: 'Recently, I heard that this couple, who are already elderly, moved to Israel and are and living in Tel Aviv. They have a large family here including children and grandchildren. You actually know them, but I won’t tell you their names because that might negatively affect their [children and grandchildren’s] abilities to find marriage partners. However, I traveled from Petach Tikvah to Tel Aviv on Saturday night, and I sat with them in their house and they themselves told me the entire account just as I had heard it from the scholar, Rabbi Elazar Moshe, and just as I passed it on to you.' Up to this here are the words of my master and teacher Rabbi Eliyahu Deuschnitzer.”

Rabbi Shalom writes that he also heard this account from Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, who heard it from Rabbi Neta (the father of the woman in the story), in Kelm. Rabbi Eliyahu added that the dybbuk at times screamed out in the presence of Rabbi Mendel – so loudly and with such a terrifying sound that everyone who heard him was frightened. He said that the destroying angels were waiting to tear him apart as soon as he left the woman’s body (because destroying angels do not have permission to touch the soul of an evil person as long as he is in a living body). A few moments later and the dybbuk began to speak mockingly, in such raw, ugly language that the people around had to cover their ears in order to avoid hearing such disgusting talk. They asked it to explain itself, because just moments before it had been crying out for help in a terrified voice. Why was it now speaking to them so horribly? It answered: “Listen, if you don’t repent and your deeds are not purified of sin then the soul [continues to] runs after evil just as it did below.” These were the words of the dybbuk.

Rabbi Shalom concluded by quoting Rabbi Eliyahu: “We can learn from this story the awful power of desire [for evil]. Even its great fear of the five destroying angels that is saw could not stop the dybbuk from speaking the type of vile and derisive words that it was accustomed to speak while alive. May God protect us and save us from such sin.”


Another incident happened during the life of the Chofetz Chayim, in the year 1909. Every year on Purim, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman would tell the account just as he had witnessed it himself. Here is the account in his own words:

“On the road from Eisiskes to Vilna – two miles from Eisiskes – there is a village called Streltsi and next to it is a village called Pasvalys, and a Jew named Nachum lived there. 

In the year 1909, Thursday, the 4th day of the month of Adar, Nachum and his fourteen year old daughter came to Radin to the Chofetz Chayim. His daughter was sick and the father claimed that she had a dybbuk inside her. The father described how the spirit had entered his daughter and this is what he said: 

After Chanukah, in the month of Tevet (about two months earlier), a horse fell and died in our barn. As soon as we heard this, all of the members of the household went outside in a panic, my daughter included. When she came back from the barn, she was drenched with sweat and drank cold water… from that moment on she was sick. 

At first, she had powerful cramps. Then she would collapse senseless to the floor. When this happened to her, she was unaware of what was going on. She only knew that she was weak because of her suffering. Then we would hear a singing voice coming from her, and then she would speak. 

“The voice told me that it (the spirit that had entered the girl) had belonged to a twelve year old [Jewish] girl who had lived with elderly parents. Her evil actions brought her to the point that she converted. She lived in a small town at the time, and the Jewish children would chase after her calling her a heretic. She fell in with a group of Jewhaters and they killed two Jewish children. Five years later, when she was seventeen, she died, and she was judged by the Supernal Court. The spirit explained to me that it had wandered in the world ever since. At the beginning of its wanderings (immediately after the young woman’s death) it had entered inside the image on her gravestone. When the stone broke, it entered into a nearby tree. The tree was cut down, and in the end it entered into a stone that had been in the barn. When the horse stood on the stone, it immediately died. From the horse it entered into a glass of water… 

Then the spirit continued: ‘When all of you ran into the barn, I saw you. I saw also your daughter, but I didn’t want to look at her.’ The spirit also said that Passover that year would mark five years since its ‘death,’ and that it would remain [in the world] for another ten years. I asked it: ‘But what do you want from my daughter?’ The spirit answered in a sad voice: ‘Rabbi Nachum, don’t you know how terrible things are for me?’ I asked again: ‘It’s terrible for you because you sinned, but what is my daughter guilty of!?’ It answered: ‘She has also sinned.’ ‘What?’ I asked. The spirit answered: ‘A girl like that needs to say a blessing when she drinks water. If she had said the blessing, I never could have entered her!’”

 This is what the father Nachum told Rabbi Elchanan, who now describes the events that took place in Radin the day after the father and daughter arrived there:

“On the eve of Shabbat, I was studying with Rabbi Naftali Tropp and Rabbi Yosef Kuller (the rabbi of Ponovitch) in the attic where they studied ^Kodshim ^^(a section of the Talmud). As we were learning, the Chofetz Chayim came and asked if we could go see the girl with the dybbuk inside of her. We responded to the request of our teacher and all three of us went to the home of Rabbi Yitzchak Tzvi the Beadle. When we arrived, many people had already gathered.

I asked it [the spirit]: 'Who are you?' It replied: 'A person.' I continued: 'Where are you from?' It answered: 'From the dirt.' [The spirit stopped speaking at this point, or Rabbi Elchanan stopped asking questions.]

That Sabbath evening, Rabbi Eliyahu Deuschnitzer and Rabbi Yerucham were with the young woman and they spoke with the dybbuk. Rabbi Eliyahu asked it: 'Who is appointed over you?'

'Demons,' it said.

'What are their names?' he asked.

'Why do you need to know that?' it answered, and then it continued: 'When I enter any object or body, I can hide like I am in a place of refuge. Yet they wait for me, and as soon as I emerge they strike me and chase me out.' Rabbi Eliyahu also told me that when the voice spoke, they looked into the young woman’s mouth and saw that her tongue did not move on its own. Another force moved it.

Rabbi Ephraim Aharon Goldberg of Monolishak, who then studied in Radin, testified before me that he himself heard Rabbi Eliyahu ask the spirit: 'If [the souls of] the wicked can rest on the Sabbath in their realm, why don’t you rest on the Sabbath?' It answered that only those who rested on Shabbat in the earthly realm can rest on the Sabbath in the next world. But those spirits that did not rest on Sabbath in this world could not rest on the Sabbath later. Then [Rabbi Elchanan continues] I requested that whenever the spirit began to speak, I should be notified. 

On the Sabbath afternoon, they called for me, saying that the dybbuk was starting to speak. I quickly walked there. I asked the spirit: 'Do you know who the Chofetz Chayim is?'

'I do. He is a great teacher of Torah!'

Then I asked it: 'If he asks you to come out of the girl, will you listen to him?'

'I will listen,' she responded.

I said: 'In truth, he requests that you leave.'

'Then I will leave,' she replied

I asked: 'When will you come out?'

She said: 'Tonight.'

I asked: 'After you come out of the sick girl, will you return to her?'

This is exactly how the dybbuk replied to my question: 'If you say kaddish afterwards I won’t go back into her. If you don’t say kaddish, I will go back into her. And if not into her, then into her sister.'

I kept asking her questions: 'Who should say kaddish for you?'

She answered: 'Two rabbis [which we took to mean two members of the Kollel]'

'And for how long should they say kaddish?'

'One week,' it said. Then she asked me: 'From what place in the body should I leave the sick girl?'

I didn’t know what to say. People standing there told me to tell her to leave from the girl’s pinky, so that is what I told her. Then another young man came to try to speak to her. She said: 'I will not speak to you.' 

While we were praying the evening prayers at the close of the Sabbath, just after the recitation Shema, in the middle of the blessing “Emet v’emunah” people entered and said that it [the spirit] was just leaving the body of the girl. At the time of its departure there were three people standing with her and this is what they told: 

The sick girl began screaming 'It hurts me here!' And then she pointed to her shoulder and yelled, 'Here!' and then 'My arm hurts!' Then her hand swelled and then just her pinky on the same hand… Afterwards we heard the sound of glass breaking, and we saw that the window had broken where the dybbuk had flown out. All of his happened in the house of Rabbi Pollack, the teacher. And since, during the last period, the girl had experienced uncontrollable spasms for several hours, everyone waited until Sunday evening – about a twenty-four hour period. When people saw that she was no longer suffering from the disease and that she had returned to normalcy, she and her father returned home. 

After all of this the Chofetz Chayim directed us to form a minyan in the attic where they had studied Kodshim, and he joined us. When we finished the prayers we studied sections of the Mishnah on behalf of the spirit. Rabbi Eliyahu and Rabbi Gershon of Salant said kaddish for the spirit for one week, until the time for the reading of the Megillah [on Purim].


Another famous case of a dybukk occurred to the holy kabbalist Rabbi Yehudah Fetayah (1859- ,(1942which he wrote about in his book Minchat Yehudah (p. 143): 

“In the year 1907, after returning from the holy city of Jerusalem [to Baghdad, where he lived] a woman named Rimah bat Pharchah came to me, and she had within her a spirit named Yitzchak ben Katoon, an evil, promiscuous man who was a complete boor. I battled with it for several years but it didn’t come out. It remains within Rimah until today, 1933, having blinded her in both eyes, may the Merciful One save us.

Also, in the year 1911, in the month of Elul, a spirit entered into a young man named Ephraim ben Nissim Changil, and afflicted him greatly. His mother and father asked a Muslim spiritualist for assistance, but it didn’t help… The spirit demanded: 'Have mercy on me and bring me Yehudah (i. e. Rabbi Yehudah Fetaya) and I will listen to everything that he tells me, because he will rectify me.' His mother and father and all of his relatives came to me. When I came to his house I found him lying on the bed, his eye rolling into the back of his head, deranged, with the spirit speaking from his throat. I said to the spirit: ‘What is your name?’ It did not want to give its name. After [I performed] several Kabbalistic meditations, it said that its name was Ephraim ben Avad Netzer Allah [basic Arabic translation: 'God will protect']. His mother was Esther and they used to live in our neighborhood (in the house in which I live now). He never married and died at the age of forty. And the reason for his return to this world was because of the fact that he had been a mule driver, who delivered goods to the villages in the region. Once he drove a woman with a large caravan to the grave of Ezekiel the Prophet. He trailed behind the caravan, then led her a different way, threatened to kill her if she screamed, and raped her.

Another time he accompanied a caravan in the desert and had relations with his donkey. Also, on the holy Sabbath, he had forbidden relations in the orchard of the village of Bakuba.

A few years later, he had a dispute with some Muslim mule drivers, and while he was delivering the goods to the village of Bakuba, they ganged up on him [and killed him] and left him in an unmarked grave. They abandoned everything including his mule and his gear on the trail. His brother Saul went looking for him, took what had been left behind, did not return the goods to their rightful owners, and did not look for the body. He took all of his [brother’s] money and possessions from his house and did not pay back his creditors anything. He also neglected to provide any of the comforts for the dead traditionally performed during the twelve months after death (kaddish, mourning customs, etc). And because he suffered greatly from this, he caused [his brother] to make many mistakes, until he lost all of his wealth and eventually died disgracefully after a difficult illness. And know that in the place where I am buried there are other Jews buried as well. It has been seventeen years since I was killed.' 

I asked the spirit whether he had repented at the time he was killed. He replied that he had been very scared, and it never even occurred to him to repent, especially since he was an ignoramus who didn’t even think about repenting. He didn’t wear ^tzitzit ^^or even put on tefillin more than three times in his life. He didn’t pray either – only on Yom Kippur.

[The spirit of Ephraim continued:] 'But that was not my first incarnation in the world. My start in the world came as a certain native of Tzefat by the name of Shlomo ben Yechezkel. But because I sinned a great deal, it was decreed that I go through a series of reincarnations, from mineral, vegetable, animal to human. I wound up as a pomegranate and an old, pious man named Shimon purchased it. He ate the fruit at a Shabbat meal, reciting two blessings on it, and in this way I was rectified. Then I wound up in the city of Izhmir, as a man named Chayim. (He was not required to be reincarnated as an animal, as originally decreed, since the old man Shimon raised him up two levels – from plant to human. This is explained in the introduction to the book Sha’ar Ha-Gilgulim (“Gate of Reincarnations”) 22b.) But that man was fond of eating chelev [forbidden, non-kosher animal fat] because he had heard from ignorant people that it was good for his health. And at the end of his days he went up to Jerusalem, may it be redeemed, and there he passed away. 

'Afterwards, the soul was born into me, Ephraim of Babylon (Iraq). And I didn’t rectify it at all; rather, I sinned and blemished it even more. From the time of the death of Shlomo, mentioned above, until this day, about four hundred and fifty years have passed, and during that entire time my soul wandered from place to place in this way. After I died, thirty-five destroying angels came to hit me for fifteen hours a day. The other nine hours a day, they would take me into the desert, full of snakes and scorpions that would bite at and eat my skin, and then I would return to life.#8 This process continued for four years. Afterward, they judged me in Gehenna (a temporary hell) fifteen hours a day, and for the remaining nine hours, they lowered me into a deep, dark pit, covered it with a large boulder, and stood on top of it. And this process continued for a long time until they gave permission for me to enter this boy, because he had sinned as a child. When he was a little boy he went with his father to the village of Bakuba. On that Shabbat, in that same orchard where I had had relations with the man mentioned before, he tore a branch from the very same tree under which we had been. However, they did not give me permission then to enter into the boy, since he was small. Now, however, I was able to gain control over him for a different reason, and they gave me permission to enter into him. I came into him in the evening, when he was arguing with his mother about dinner. I entered through the top of his head and he felt a pain like a thick needle entering his skull, and I started to torture him, just as you see. And now I request from your honor to rectify me spiritually, for God’s sake.'

I asked the spirit if he had heard or seen or knew of the fate of Nathan of Gaza (a disciple of Sabbatai Zevi), and whether he had already gone to Gehenna, or if his soul was still in the “sling.” He said: 'I haven’t seen it with my own eyes. But during the nine months I was in the pit, I once heard loud voices like that of a wedding celebration, and I asked the ones in charge of me what was all the noise. They told me that Nathan of Gaza’s punishment in the ‘sling’ had ended, and that he was now being sent to Gehenna.'

During this conversation, his mother brought [the boy] some meat to eat. When he took a piece to eat, he said to those sitting around him: 'Look how in this piece is the soul of an eighty-seven year old woman, who was punished for combing her hair in the courtyard next to an open door, leading to the street. (Although she had always covered her hair, as required by Jewish law, she had not been careful about combing it in a way that passersby shouldn’t see it, and this is why she was punished with reincarnation). Even the piece of pomegranate in the other bowl contains the soul of a girl. Even the bird that sits on a branch of a tree on the right contains the spirit of a girl who lived for only three days. I see all of this with my eyes and I can’t believe that none of you see this. Therefore, one of you must make a blessing on these pieces [of food] with concentration, and all the rest of you must answer “amen” in order to repair [the souls] spiritually.' We did according to his request.

I said to the spirit: 'Would you prefer to leave [this body] completely and smoothly, or shall it be by force and with shame? Because no matter what, you need to leave today. And if you refuse, I will send you out against your will by means of holy names and oaths.' He said to me: 'Yes, I will do as you say because I also want to leave; however I will not leave until 12:20pm – the time I came in.' I said to him: 'That is impossible; for today is the eve of both the Sabbath and Rosh Hashanah. We need to prepare ourselves for both of them, and we cannot be delayed by you. Better for you to get out now, when souls are ascending to the Garden of Eden, in order that you too join them.' The spirit answered: 'All of Sabbath is holy and I can rise up at the moment of my own choosing.' Then I started to force him out through ^yichudim ^^[kabbalistic meditations]. He screamed in a bitter voice and said: 'If this is the case then I will leave at 11:30 today.' I said to him: 'I don’t accept that either. You must leave now.' He said to me: 'If this is the case, go buy your things for the Sabbath and come back to me at the eighth hour. May God have mercy on us and we’ll see what we can do.' I said to him: 'Alright, but you must not trouble Ephraim until I return to deal with you.’ He agreed. 

I returned at eight and started performing yichudim, and blew twelve [shofar] blasts near his ear. The spirit rose up and screamed: 'I want to leave without being forced!' I said to him: 'From which body part do you want to leave?' He said: 'His eyes.' I scolded him that he not leave from his eyes because that would blind him. 'Fine,' he said. 'Then I will leave from his mouth.' I reproached him again. Then he said he would leave from his teeth, but promised to knock out only the particular premolar from which he would exit. I rejected this too.

So he asked me: 'Then from which body part do you want me to go out of?' I said to him: 'From the small toe of his left foot between the nail and the skin.' He told me that it was a big problem for him to leave from the end of the body because it is the place to which ritually impure elements cling. I forced him with more yichudim, oaths and threats of eternal excommunication that he would leave only through the small toe of the left foot, without damaging any other part of the body – even that same little toe from which he must go out. And I made him promise that he would never again enter into or harm any other Jew. He became very angry and said: 'How can I not tear away or at least damage the little toe from which I will leave?' I was forced to speak to him more gently so that he would not get upset and begin to hurt him [Ephraim]. 'It seems as if you have a very big soul, and it is only due to your sins that you had to be reincarnated. Actually you are humble and shy. You love the Torah and respect rabbis. Because of this, I do not want this young man to be hurt at all, so that you are not counted among ‘the souls of the wicked [who] are the scourge of the world’ (Zohar 2:118), or be considered like one of them.'

Then the spirit surrendered and replied: 'Your words are very good and true. I am ready to force myself, and overcome my initial desire, so that I don’t hurt him at all. Nevertheless, he will still remain ill for another fifteen days and then he will become well.' I said to him: 'That simply cannot be. These are the most precious days of the year, and there are many Biblical commandments associated with them: from Rosh Hashanah, Sabbath, hearing the shofar, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkah, lulav and etrog, Hashanah Rabbah and the completion of the Torah reading. You are going to prevent him from doing all of those commandments! And also from the commandment of tzitzit and tefillin, and from the obligations for prayer. This will really hurt you in the realm of souls.' He said: 'But the greatest pain is mine, if I don’t do anything bad to him.' I said to him: 'It is appropriate for you to go through this pain for the sake of the Holy One and for the sake of His commandments.' The spirit said; 'Woe is me, if I do as you say. Still, I must suffer all of this for God’s sake.' And then in the midst of this the spirit added: 'The tenth hour is coming. I want to go. I now request that you begin studying so that my spirit will leave amidst words of Torah, so that I might be rectified.' 

I began to study [the verses] 'May the Lord answer you on the day of distress…' (Psalms 20:2), and 'He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High…' (ibid. 91:1), and 'When I call, answer me…' (ibid. 4:2), and acrostics of the initials of Ephraim ben Esther (from Psalm 119), and 'The tale of iniquities is too heavy for me…' (ibid. 65:4), and Ezekiel’s chariot and 'What god is like You…' (Micah 7:18), and the ^Idra Rabbah ^^from 'Rabbi Shimon opened and said…' to the end of the thirteen attributes, the Zohar on the Torah portion Vayakhel (p. 219b), from 'Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar were sitting' to 'Arise and sing, you dwellers in the dust', the incense offering, Shema Yisrael and 'Anna b’ko’ach,' And than I said 'May it be Your will…' as quoted previously in Isaiah 30. 'As you study,' said the spirit, 'I am going out.' He said 'Shalom Aleichem – Goodbye!' and went out from the boy, as he had promised, without inflicting any further harm.

Immediately the boy sat up and returned to his senses, for he hadn’t felt anything that happened to him. Although he wondered why there was a group of men and women standing around him and why his mother and father were crying. The people said to him that it was nothing, that he had fainted a bit and they had come to visit him. Then everyone disbanded right away, each to his own business. His father and mother kissed him. I said to them: 'Thank God, nothing bad happened to him.' I already ordered a protective amulet for him to wear after the spirit departed, according the custom of the Arizal. Likewise, the spirit said before he left that the ones appointed over him had said that Ephraim must wear an amulet around his neck on which are written the four Names of God, known to me.

However, I suspected that the spirit never really left the boy, but rather cleverly hid itself in his body. For the afflicted child had not made a single movement of his body or feet, as usually happens. Still, I ignored it and pretended that I was convinced that the spirit was completely gone. Night was coming, and it was time to go to synagogue. I also wanted to trick the spirit into thinking that we believed that he had already left, so that he would carefully stay out of sight and not bother the young man for at least the two days of Rosh Hashanah. After that, God would have to have mercy on us. And so it was that after the two days of Rosh Hashanah the boy slowly became sicker and sicker, until the spirit revealed itself on the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and caused the boy to faint.

On the Saturday night, the eve of Yom Kippur, I went and said to him: 'You are a liar. You promised that you would already be gone on Rosh Hashanah, but you were hiding in the boy's body.' He told me that he had already left on Rosh Hashanah, but because he had gone out before the exact time he had entered, he had been forced to return again. (This idea was ridiculous!) He said he was ready and willing to leave at the end of Yom Kippur and requested that the father of the boy circle four chickens over the head of his son and then slaughter them (a custom called ^kaparot^^, performed on the eve of Yom Kippur).

The spirit did not want there to be less than four chickens, and he also did not want to explain why. Perhaps he wanted one chicken for each of his incarnations, plus one for the boy. When they brought the four chickens in front of him he grabbed them in his hand and said: 'In this chicken is one incarnated soul!' Then he turned to me and begged me to slaughter it, with the appropriate blessing (for I have been a certified slaughterer since 1882). I did as I was asked and the spirit did as he said he would. Near the end of Yom Kippur, the boy Ephraim went to the synagogue (of Moshe Dahan) where he always prayed, and according to people who prayed there, the boy fainted during the closing prayers of the service.

The spirit screamed at the worshippers that they must leave the synagogue. Some of the people left and some did not because they wanted to see what would happen. The spirit said to them that if they didn’t move away from him, he would publicly reveal each and every one of their sins. Then everyone moved away. (Actually, he was worried about hurting them when he came out.) He yelled at the shofar blower and told him to have him in mind when he blows shofar (at the conclusion of the service). When the shofar was blown, he told the people that the archangel appointed over the prayers and shofar blows of all of Israel had descended to collect them – and that the spirit was going to leave with him and ascend to the Garden of Eden. The boy screamed out loudly from the terrible pain in his leg, and pounded his left foot on the floor with great force. Then the spirit left altogether and the boy sat peacefully, whole in both body and mind. He could not walk because of the pain in his leg and they carried him home. By morning he was healthy again.”


The next account is from the writings of Rabbi Chayim Vital, the student of the holy Arizal. It took place in 1609 and describes a spirit that entered into the daughter of Rafael Anaf of Damascus. Rabbi Chayim arrived at the place of the incident on the Sabbath night and describes the events that followed. We will offer only a few sentences of his description: 

“They asked the spirit: 'Who are you?' And he said: 'I am Rabbi Piso. Why did you light only two candles? You should have lit many candles for all of the angels and souls of the righteous that come with me to accompany and protect me… I am not like the other spirits, for I am both wise and righteous. I came with only one small sin that I still need to repair. I have also come to help you make repentance for the many sins that you committed… I died thirty-five years ago and rose to my place in the Garden of Eden, and I have dwelled there ever since. Yet there remains one small thing to repair. I came to repair it, and woe unto anyone who is not careful in this world to avoid even the smallest sin. He shouldn’t be like me and go through what I have…. And so you residents of Damascus: You do not have a portion in the world-to-come for several reasons… Your women also walk about boldly in immodest clothing and disgraceful jewelry… putting on all kinds of perfumes that arouse men’s desire, and they do this in the markets and streets to show off their beauty….” 

There are many more accounts of dybbuks in the books Minchat Yehudah, Sha’arei Emunah (section 3), and others; The publication The Dybbuk – was it or wasn’t it? Concerning the most famous dybbuk of our time, Pinchas ben Sufi of Dimonah, Israel.

Adapted from The Coming Revolution by Rabbi Zamir Cohen

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