Tales of Practical Kabbalah: The Awesome Story of Rabbi Yosef Della Reina

The story of Rabbi Yosef Della Reina

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina’s (1418 – 1472) account is told by a few sources, the earliest being recorded by Rabbi Avraham Ben Eliezer HaLevi. He lived in Tzfat and wanted to bring the Redemption by means of practical Kabbalah.

It all started when he took 5 of his most loyal students who were very knowledgeable in practical Kabbalah and did anything he requested. He told them, “I am resolved to use the secrets of the Torah to remove all impurities from this world and bring the Redemption and Moshiach, who will release us from our oppressors.” . This is very significant since we are only here in this world until Mashiach comes to finish the work of the berurim. It’s astonishing Rabbi Yosef Della Reina wanted to do it on his own.

The students all replied that they are ready to do anything their teacher commands them to do. He told them, “If so, do the following: Cleanse yourselves, change your garments, and for the next 3 days, do not go near any woman, and prepare provisions and food only for you. On the third day, we will go to the fields and not return home until Am Israel are settled each on his farm, in the Holy Land.” – Translation: get ready because we won’t come back until we fulfill our mission.

The disciples did as their Rav instructed. On the third day, they came to the Bet Midrash and saw him with his head buried between his knees. [This is by the way a meditation Kabbalistic position to channel divine energy]. He lifted his head and said, “May it be God’s will that the Divine Spirit inspire the work of our hands, and HaShem will aid us so we can glorify His Name”. They all answered, “Amen”.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina took all sorts of spices and placed a scribe’s sefer in his belt.

They went to Meron, to the Kever of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, zs’l and learned the whole night there.

When Rabbi Yosef Della Reina dozed off, Rashbi came to him thru a dream and asked him, “Why are you getting yourself in such a difficult task which you will not be able to carry out?”, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina answered him that HaShem knows his intentions are pure and Rashbi blessed him to succeed. From here we can see Rabbi Yosef Della Reina had a tremendously high level to receive this type of revelation. He was not just some pretend Kabbalist who liked Kabbalah.

The following morning, they went to Teveria, to an open field. They fasted all day and were occupied with doing Yichudim, and did not look at any animals or people, only above, at the birds. All this time they also immersed in the Mikveh many times while fasting in order to minimize the weight of the physical world to the maximum.

The evening was approaching, and Rabbi Yosef Della Reina and his students were praying Mincha. When they got to the part “Shema Kolenu” of the Amidah, they added the Anenu “Answer us” part. Together with the power of their Yichudim, they were able to summon Eliyahu HaNavi, zachur latov. Right away Eliyahu HaNavi asked what was so urgent that they used special formula in their prayers to call him. They all bowed down and Rabbi Yosef Della Reina said, “I’m zealous for the honor of HaShem, Blessed and Holy One. Please show me how to conquer the Satan and strengthen the Holiness, the Sitra Kedusha.”

Eliyahu HaNavi answered him, “Know this, what you are planning to do is very difficult and you will not succeed. The Klipot of the sins and transgressions are very strong and you will not be able to subdue the Satan. You must increase in Kedusha (holiness) and continue fasting and immersing in the Mikveh, otherwise, you will fail he will kill you. Know that your intentions are welcome if you succeed. But my advice to you is to stop right now because you will not be able to overpower the Sitra Achra”.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina said, “Please Master, do not discourage me. I took an oath that I’ll not return home until I raise the Shechinah from the dust”.

Enter the Angel Sandal”phon

When Eliyahu HaNavi heard this, he said, “You and your disciples need to isolate yourselves in the fields for 21 days, it must be in a location that was never inhabited. Do not eat, except to survive and accustom yourselves to minimal portions of food and every evening, reduce the portion. Get used to smelling the spices in order to clear your mind so you will be able to speak to the Heavenly Angels whom you will summon. In addition, immerse yourself 21 times daily, the numerical value of EKYE. After the 21 days, fast for 3 days and nights. On the third day, after the afternoon prayers, do the Yichudim of the holy formula of HaShem’s name of the 42 letters, as you know how to do, while you are wrapped in Talit and Tefillin and your faces covered. Through these Yichudim, summon the Angel Sandal”phon with his army to appear.”

This requires some explanation. The Angel Sandal”phon (don’t pronounce the name), is what we could call the “director” of the world of Assiyah. To be more precise this is a name that’s also present in the world above, Yetzirah, as explained in Etz Chaim. It should be emphasized that summoning angels or even just calling them by name is a very risky practice and bring death if the person is not of a sufficiently high level or his intentions are not pure. This is only one of the few risks of Practical Kabbalah.

“When they come”, Eliyahu HaNavi continued, “revive yourselves with the smelling spices, because you will be weak and tremble from their mighty fire. Throw yourselves on the ground and welcome him. Request from Angel Sandal”phon to strengthen you. Immediately Angel Sandal”phon will inquire why you called upon him and what is it that you are doing. When he speaks to you, due to the greatness of his voice, your neshamot will exit your body and you will have no strength to reply from so much fear and weakness. Plead to Angel Sandal”phon to strengthen you and to grant you the power of speech. He will then tell you what you should do as he prevents the Satan from entering holy places, and he knows the spots where one can increase his strength”.

As soon as Eliyahu HaNavi left, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina gathered his students and did as he was instructed, day and night without deviating the slightest. They disconnected from the physical needs of this world and were only occupied with the [meditative] secrets of Merkava. When it was time for Mincha of the third day, after the 21 days, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina and his students covered themselves in Tefillin and Talit, including their heads, and prayed with absolute devotion. Wherever YKVK was said, they concentrated on the Holy Name. When they finished the prayer, they fell on their face, covered in Talit, and rose up on their feet to say the Viduy on their sins and the sins of Am Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina

After the Viduy, they raised their voice to Shamayim, and with all human strength they possessed, they said, “Answer us, Elokei HaMerkava, Answer us”. They performed more Yichudim of the 42 letters of HaShem’s Holy Name, as Eliyahu HaNavi instructed them, and as they finished the Yichudim, the glorious Angel Sandal”phon came together with his army on fiery chariots and fiery horses while a great fire filled the entire field around. The Rav and his students shook in fear and fell to the ground, while their hearts melted. They were literally left without breath within them. They tried smelling the spices they were holding in their hands, and their vitality returned to them, but they still could not speak.

Angel Sandal”phon said to them, “What is it you want, worms that you are? Who gave you the permission to shake the upper and lower worlds? Have self-respect and return home, lest we burn you with our breath”.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina answered in a low trembling voice, “Holy Angel of God, what can your servant say in your Holy presence? I am left without breath, as a dead man. So great is my fear and awe”. When the Angel Sandal”phon heard this, he touched him and said, “Get up and speak, for I have given you back your strength”.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina felt stronger, removed his shoes, and bowed down to the ground. His students were still on the ground and unable to rise. “Peace unto you, Angel of HaShem, and peace unto your holy forces”, said the Rav. “I beg you to return my strength and courage to perform my will. It is not for my honor to make HaShem’s name great, but I do this for the sake of Elokim, the Kings of all Kings. Please, I entreat you, holy one with holy forces, to agree to help me wage war and wipe out the Amalekim. Instruct me what I must do to remove the rule of wickedness from the earth”.

As the Angel Sandal”phon heard this he said, “Your words and actions are proper, and God be with you! All of us, the Angels, Serafim, Arelim, the holy camps of Angels, await in anticipation to revenge HaShem’s Great Honor. But know this, everything you have done till now is nothing.”

“Because,” he continued, “who can overcome the great powers of the Samech Mem (Satan) and his forces?”

As one could expect, ridding the world of the Tumah that exists will be the job of Mashiach. Many attempts have been made to bring the Geulah in an artificial manner or even “force” Hashem’s hand, kavy’achol with Practical Kabbalah. But Rabbi Yosef Della Reina was determined to do so by any means necessary…

If you would know how high powers Samael and his forces have reached, you would not attempt this,” the Angel continued, “For who can prevail against him except the Holy One Blessed One Himself when the time comes to fulfill His word. I have come now in respect to the Great Name you have pronounced. But what can I do for you? I am unable to learn the great strength of the Samech Mem and what his rise and fall depend on. None know this except the great Angel Ach”tiel with his hosts, and Metat”ron, Minister of the Face (Sar HaPanim), with his hosts. Yet, who can stand in front of such mighty Angels? If you were frightened of me, how will you be even able to [even] exist in their great presence? Though, the truth is, if you can accomplish this great task of wiping out the Samech Mem, your reward will be great, and not one will be able to stand next to your holiness”.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina answered, “I am young and unworthy for who am I that can stand in front of the Angels. But my heart is broken and willing to sacrifice myself for the Holy and Blessed One, for the Holy Divine Spirit. Therefore, instruct me how to bring down the great Angel Ach”tiel with his hosts, and Meta”tron, Minister of the Face, with his hosts. Instruct me how to increase holiness and add sanctity and purity and what Holy Name to use to conjure the Holy Angels?”.

The Angel Sandal”phon spoke again and said, “Hear my words and HaShem be with you. Continue for another 40 days the immersions, fasts, and purification of thoughts. Do not stray from holy thoughts for even a second. Decrease the portion of food till your body will need very little to survive. Continue smelling the spices because this is the most vital to give strength to the Neshama. After 40 days, pronounce the Holy Name that contains 72 letters, with great Kavana. When you do this, you will be able to call upon the Angel Acht”iel with his hosts, and Metat”ron, Sar HaPanim, with his hosts. Ask HaKadosh Baruch Hu to help you and strengthen you because the fire of these Angels is very great and can kill you. If you do all these, they will reveal and instruct you how to overpower the Samech Mem and erase him. May HaShem help you and guard you against all evil”.

With this, the Angel Sandal”phon and his forces left heavenwards. The students were still laying on the ground, covered in Talit, and trembling in fear. When he left, the group got up and the Rav said, “Quickly, my sons, strengthen yourselves. We must do as Angel Sandal”phon instructed us!”. They replied, “We are ready, how fortune is our share that we were able to hear the great Angel Sandal”phon!”. The students replied in excitement, “Whatever you instruct us, our teacher and Rebbe, we will do!”.

They then left the field and went to the desert, near a mountain by Meron, and sat in a cave, as they were instructed by Angel Sandal”phon for another 40 days.

The Angel Metat”ron

As explained above, the Angel Metat’ron is the overseer of Yetzirah and Hashem rules over Creation through him (like one wearing a shoe), during the 6 days of the week. One Shabbat, this veil is lifted and we have Hashem’s kingship entirely. This is the basis for the Retze addition during Birkat Hamazon when we ask “Retze V’HaChalitzenu” (Chalitza means to take off one’s shoe and is the ritual in which the Yevama spits on the shoes of her husband’s brother setting her free). This Angel is therefore on a completely different level than Sandal”phon.

The group left nothing out from the instructions and completely disconnected themselves from the physical world. When the 40 days were completed, they went out to the wilderness near the source of Nachal Kishon. They prepared themselves for the great afternoon prayer of Mincha.

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They marked a circle on the ground and entered inside it while linking hands together and formed a circle. As they did, they prnounced the Great Name of HaShem of the 72 letters and called upon Angel Acht”iel with his hosts, and Metat”ron, Sar HaPanim, with his hosts. When they pronounced the Great Name, the earth shook and there was lightning and thunders. The heavens opened and Angel Ach”tiel with his hosts, and Meta”tron, Sar HaPanim came down. The Rav and students kept their hands linked together, and all fell onto the ground and did not let go of one another.

As soon as the Angel Ach”tiel and Angel Meta”tron came down to earth together with their entourage, they began to speak in great fury. “Who and where is the one who dared to use the Royal Scepter?”.

When Rabbi Yosef Della Reina saw this great revelation, he felt as though he was slumbering with his face down. He and his students were also completely exhausted. But the Angel Metatron touched him and said, “Speak up and answer, you foul drop of sperm. What is this great need that you brought us down?”.

Rav Yosef Della Reina was unable to answer and the Angel Metatron touched him again. He faintly whispered, “What can this worthless slave say in the presence of the pure and holy Malachim? Please strengthen me so I can have permission to speak because I am like a still rock and my neshama flew outside of me”.Angel Achtiel stretched out his hand and touched him and said, “I have strengthened you, speak!”. The Rav opened his mouth and said, “HaShem Almighty knows that I did not do this in deceit but only to Honor the Great One Blessed Be He. Ministering Angels, by the great powerful name of the Holy One, instruct me the strength of the Samech Mem where it can be found. What must I do to bring him down?”.

The Angels answered him together, “Your request is very difficult. If you knew the strength he gains from the sins of Am Israel and that none is mightier than him, you would not attempt to do this. No one can bring him down from his nest among the stars, and his seat is surrounded by three barriers [note: presumably this is the 3 klipot mentioned in Yechezkel]. You cannot prevail against him. Only the Holy and Blessed One Himself can do this when the time comes!”.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina still begged, “I have already risked my soul for the Holy One and Blessed One. I trust in Hashem that He will help me to succeed. Please instruct me and tell me what to do. Whatever needs to be done, I’ll do!”. The angels then replied, “Listen Yosef, your will is appreciated but the time has not yet arrived and it’s already been decreed, “אם תעירו ואם תעוררו את האהבה עד שתחפץ (Shir HaShirim, meaning…) You will not stir up nor awaken love [i.e. the Geulah. Forcefully]”. Yet, in view of your will and wisdom and knowledge of hidden secrets that HaKadosh Baruch Hu granted you, we are compelled to tell and instruct you which way to go”. With this, the Angel Acht”iel began: “One one side facing me, Samech Mem has two powerful barriers, one is an iron wall which rises from Earth to Heaven and the other, is a great barrier of the ocean”. Angel Metat”ron told him that on his side, facing the Samech Mem is a barrier consisting of a mighty snow mountain, whose summit reaches the skies.

They told the Rav and his group, “Listen carefully and pay close attention. In order to eliminate the three barriers and bring them down, this is what you must do: When you leave here, go to Mount Seir. We will arrive in Mount Seir before you, on top. Whatever operation you do on the bottom of Mount Seir, we will perform the same on the top. When you go to Mount Seir, continue to be holy as you are now. Your souls have risen to a great height and you have almost attained the position of Angels. You have forgotten the ways of the physical world. Along the way, you will encounter a large horde of black dogs; know that Samech Mem is sending them to you to confuse you. Have no fear and pronounce the Name of Holy HaShem that contains 52 letters, (numerical value also of KELEV, dog). Concentrate on the Holy Name and the dogs will flee away from you. From there, climb on top of the mountain, you will find a great mass of snow up to the skies. Concentrate on the hidden secrets of the Passuk verse of “Have you entered the treasuries of snow”, and the mountain will be moved from its place. After that, concentrate on the verse, “It snows in Tzalmon” and the mountain will vanish. Continue with these concentrations until you reach the barrier of the ocean, whose waves reach the skies. Pronounce the verse from Tehillim, “Ascribe to Hashem, O you sons of the Mighty”, and the ocean will dry up and you will be able to cross it on dry land. Go forward and you will see a wall that reaches from the earth to the sky. Take a knife in your hand and inscribe upon it the words חרב לה’ ולגדעון and with the knife, cut into the iron and make an opening and enter thru it. Make sure not to close the opening till all of you pass safely thru the opening. After passing thru the opening, it will close. After that, go forward till you reach Mount Seir”.

“At that time”, the Angel continued, “we will fling Samech Mem from his seat and he will be entrusted into your hands. Let the Holy Name be prepared [beforehand] written and engraved by you on a plate of lead. Prepare another plate of lead and engrave on it from the verse of Zecharia, ‘ויאמר זאת הרשעה וישלך אותה אל תוך האיפה, וישלך את אבן העופרת אל תוך פיה’. After this, you will be able to go wherever you desire in Mount Seir. You will find the wicked Samech Mem and Lil”ith (the Demon Queen) in form of black dogs, a male, and a female. Do not be afraid. On the male, set the engraved plate with the Holy Name and set the other plate on the female. Put a rope around the male and female with the plates attached, and they will follow you with their camp. Then HaShem’s desire will be achieved and you will bring Samech Mem and Lil”ith to judgment on Mount Seir. Then there will be the great sound of the Shofar and Moshiach will appear and will purify the earth from all impurities. The Holy One and Blessed One will slaughter the spirit of the impurity and all the righteous will be present. When this happens, there will be the Great Redemption. Be very careful and do all that we instructed you, and if you successfully do this, how great is your portion. Don’t lose concentration of the holiness for a split second and be very careful when you tie the dogs Samech Mem and Lilith, and don’t listen to them. They will cry and plead with you to give them food or drink but don’t listen to them and don’t give them anything. Don’t believe them and pay no attention to them. May HaShem protect and guide you”.

The Showdown

With that said, the Malachim flew heavenwards. When the entourage ascended, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina rose. They were overjoyed and excited, and quickly prepared everything the Malachim told them and walked towards Mount Seir. On the way, they saw a horde of vicious black dogs coming towards them. They did as were instructed (to meditate on the name B”N of Gematria 52), and the dogs scattered and disappeared. After this, they encountered a great snowy mountain. When they did as they were instructed, the mountain moved. Once they said the other Holy Name combination, the mountain completely vanished. They walked on for 2 more days, and on the third day, they saw a great ocean whose waves reached the skies. As soon as they again pronounced the Holy Names’ combination, the ocean dried and they walked through it, on dry land.

When they found the wall that reached all the way up to heaven, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina took the knife in which the Holy Name was engraved on it and sliced the iron wall for an opening. When the last of the students passed thru, the Rav let go of the opening but the last student was slow and his leg got caught. The Rav took out the knife and sliced the iron wall open around the student’s leg and he passed thru. From there, they climbed Mount Seir to its summit.

As they found the crater within which were in ruins, dogs were heard barking. They entered one of the ruins and saw 2 enormous black dogs, a male, and a female. The dogs jumped on them with the intent to swallow them whole. However, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina had the engraved plates in his hand and, after tieing the plates, quickly put the rope around the dogs’ neck. As soon the rope was tied around them, they shapeshifted from the shapes of the dogs to those of mankind, except for their wings full of eyes, like flames, which remained.

As expected, they begged for food or drink but Rabbi Yosef Della Reina ignored their pleads. With tremendous happiness, they walked towards Mount Seir, with Samech Mem and Lili”th behind them, tied in a rope, crying. Rabbi Yosef was overjoyed and said, “Who would have thought that I would have succeeded capturing the Samech Mem?”.

The Samech Mem replied, “Indeed, we are in your hands and you can do whatever you desire. Give us something to eat or drink because otherwise, we will never make it to Mount Seir”. But Rabbi Yosef refused to give them anything, as was instructed.

As they approached Mount Seir, the Rav took out the spices to smell it. And the Samech Mem told him, “If you won’t give us food or drink, at least give us a little sniff of the spices”. When Rabbi Yosef Della Reina handed them a bit of the spice, the Samech Mem blew a spark of fire from his mouth and burned the incense, including the spices in the Rav’s pocket. The vapor entered the Samech Mem’s nostrils and snapped off the rope from his neck, flinging the engraved plates. He then began striking the Rav and his students. Two of them immediately died upon hearing the Samech Mem’s roar, while two others lost their minds.

Rabbi Yosef Della Reina remained alone with 1 student only, exhausted and astounded. He didn’t know that in giving the incense to the Samech Mem he was actually committing idol-worship! That was when all his holy strength disappeared. That moment, the mountain began to let smoke out, amid gloominess and darkness. A Divine Voice [Bat Kol] came out and said, “Oy to you, Yosef, Oy to your Neshama that you did not do as you were commanded! You engaged in idolatry and offered incense to the Samech Mem,and now he will pursue you out of this world and out of the next world!”.

It’s unclear how the two of them had survived. But the Rav and his remaining student buried the 2 dead students, and afterward, rested. The Samech Mem had possessed the other 2 students and they perished in great suffering.

Aftermath

Practical Kabbalah carries incredible risks. Rav Chaim Vital Zt”l already warned that NO ONE should use it (even though he himself was compelled to do so at least once to save his life). Since this practice uses names sourced in the world of Assiyah, where it’s mostly evil, the Sitra Achrah can attach itself to a person in a very strong way and make him sin to destroy his soul.

And this is what happened…

After this episode, Rabbi Yosef Della Reina went to the city of Sidon, where he settled down. Sadly, his ways turned very evil. He saw that he did not succeed and since he had heard from the Divine Voice that he lost this world and the World-to-Come, he made a pact with the evil Lilith and took her to became his wife. He polluted in every way possible and used the Holy Name of Hashem to do a lot of evil. Every night he would conjure spirits and devils to satiate his heart’s desire.

He continued his ways and had many more women until he took the wife of the king of Greece. He had her brought to him every night, and in the morning, he would give orders to return her. One day the queen told her husband, “Every night I dream that I’m in a certain place and a man sleeps with me but I find myself in the morning in my bed”. When the king heard this, he summoned the magicians and placed them on guard at the queen’s home. That night, the demons came at the order of Yosef to take the queen and the guards spotted them. They forced the demons to tell them why they were coming there nightly to take the queen and the demons answered that they were ordered by a certain Yosef from the city of Sidon.

When the king heard this, he sent a certain minister to the city of Sidon with gifts to the Lord of Sidon, asking that Yosef be sent to him alive immediately. Yosef realized that his deeds were known to the king, even before the minister arrived in Sidon, and he threw himself into the ocean and drowned.

As for me, the fifth student, I was left alone and sick on a sickbed all my life. There is no remedy for my ailment nor do I have any reprieve from the demons. I have written this tale for a memorial. And I copied this tale from old letters that I found in Tzfat and wrote this story as a warning that no one should attempt to bring the Redemption before its time.

The last student

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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