Even before the age of thirteen, Rabbeinu learned under the great rabbonim of his hometown, Verbau, HaRav Koppel Charif, and the Shaarei Torah. Already then, he was well-known for his talents and keen mind.
When he was bar mitzvah, he left home to learn in the great yeshiva in Pressburg, where he soon became beloved by the talmidim and by his great Rebbe, the Chasam Sofer, zt"l.
After a few years, a wealthy talmid chochom came to the Chasam Sofer and asked him to suggest the best of his talmidim as a match for his daughter.
The Chasam Sofer paused to think for a few moments and then decided.
"The bochur Chaim Hersch of Verbau, he's the one you're looking for. In addition to his wisdom and yiras Shomayim, this boy is good-hearted and will care for you in your old age."
A strange-sounding statement to a young, healthy man, marrying off his daughter. Years later, however, the Chasam Sofer's words were well understood, when his father-in-law became too weak to care for himself and Reb Chaim Hersch indeed looked after him with selfless devotion.
Rabbeinu's sharp wit and profound wisdom became public knowledge even among the goyim, after the following episode:
The judge walked to his place. The proceedings began with the Jew in the stand presenting his case. A few days earlier, he had closed a deal with the defendant, a local cow dealer. After paying the full price for the cow he intended to buy, however, the goy had suddenly drawn back, insisting the sale had never existed and he'd never sold a cow to this Jew.
"No such thing," shouted the red-faced cattle merchant. "This Jew never paid me anything. I've never even seen him in my life!"
The judge nodded knowingly in the direction of the two. This was not the first time he had heard such a case. It was an old story. He knew the cow-dealer to be a liar and a cheat, but had no way to prove that the Yid had paid for the cow.
This time he decided justice would be done, come what may, and adjourned the court case temporarily.
Having heard of the sagely wisdom of a Jewish rabbi who lived in the town, he went to ask his advice.
Reb Chaim Hersch listened to the story, nodding sympathetically.
As soon as the judge finished speaking, the Rabbi instructed him:
"Send a group of officers to the house of the cow-dealer, demanding that he hand over his counterfeit money."
Not really understanding why, the judge decided to obey; he could not think of any other option, and had heard that this man was clever.
Sitting in his house, the cow-dealer was satisfied. As he ate his lunch, he smiled in admiration of his own cunning. Again he had managed to pull off the trick. The Jew had no way of proving that he paid, and the cow would remain his.
A harsh banging on his door startled him. Five police officers burst into the house with a search warrant, demanding that he hand over the counterfeit money in his possession.
Panic seized the goy as he began to insist on his innocence, the pitch of his voice rising higher as he protested, "I have no counterfeit money. I promise you, I'm innocent!"
As they continued their search, the foolish man fell into the trap.
"If you do find anything suspicious, it's the money I received from my Jewish neighbor a few days ago!"
That was it. An open admission from the cow-seller himself that he had received the money.
The judge could only thank Reb Chaim Hersch for solving the case.
His Torah wisdom and ability to lead not withstanding, Reb Chaim Hersch did not want to take on a rabbonus, preferring to learn on his own and run his own business.
Several times a year, he would travel to his rebbe, the Chasam Sofer, to ask him his sheilos in halochoh and to hear chiddushei Torah. On one such occasion, the Chasam Sofer said to him gently, "Listen, my dear talmid, I've received a number of requests from various kehillos who want to give you the rabbonus in their towns. I never pressed you, for I knew that your one desire is to learn Torah undisturbed and not to earn money through your Torah. However, the time has now become ripe. In my opinion you should accept a post as rav, for the sake of strengthening Torah and Yiddishkeit.
Reb Chaim Hersch tried to plead with his Rebbe. "I never had such intentions. Surely I'm not even worthy!" But the Chasam Sofer interrupted him.
"`Many are the thoughts in the heart of man, but in the end Hashem's decision will prevail.' Sometimes Heaven issues a decree on a person in which he has no choice. The only power he has is how the decree will be carried out."
So saying, the Chasam Sofer indicated that his talmid return home.
On his way home, Reb Chaim Hersch passed through a densely wooded forest.
Suddenly, a band of robbers blocked his way threateningly, and demanded "your money or your life."
Reb Chaim Hersch knew that with these people it was probably a case of money and life. They would have no qualms about killing him. He had to think fast.
"Fine," he said. "In my pocket I have money, but it's only a small sum, nothing in comparison to what I'll earn in a few days' time. I've sent a herd of oxen to the market at Helmetz. Spare my life so I can go to the market. I'll sell my herd and, on my way home again, in return for allowing me to live, I'll give you all that I earn."
After a brief discussion, the band decided to let him go, and disappeared into the thick of the forest.
Reb Chaim Hersch continued on his way, thanking Hashem for putting the eitzoh into his head.
Naturally, after the yerid, he traveled home through a different route, avoiding the robbers completely.
That would have been a nice ending to the story, but it has a sequel.
On a peaceful night, Reb Chaim Hersch was learning at home, when the same band of robbers broke into his home.
"You think that you could make fools of us?" the leader growled. "What did you think? We wouldn't catch you?" Within a few moments, they had grabbed everything they could lay their hands on.
By the time they left with a slam of the broken door, the house had been emptied completely, save for the seforim and a number of household items.
In a matter of moments, the Rebbe had been transformed from a well-to-do merchant to a pauper.
Only a few days later, the head of the Jewish community in Shuttelsdorf came to Reb Chaim Hersch, requesting that he accept the rabbonus in their city.
As they stood before Rabbeinu, their question hanging in the air, he had a sudden flashback to his Rebbe the Chasam Sofer's parting words:
"Sometimes the choice is only how the gezeiroh will come about."
Realizing now that a Hand from above had been guiding the events in order to force him to accept rabbonus, Reb Chaim Hersch acquiesced.
After several years as rav in Shuttelsdorf, he served as rav in his hometown, Verbau, and later in Ungvar.
In the introduction to his sefer, Ein Habdolach, the following story is related. Rabbeinu always shrank away from giving direct brochos to people for refuos and the like.
However, on one occasion a congregant came to him, begging him brokenheartedly for a brochoh for his daughter who had become ill and lost her mind, R"l .
In the end, Rabbeinu agreed to bless her with a refuah shleimoh, on condition that the father never reveal to anyone that he had given his brochoh. "And if you do tell," he warned, "It will be detrimental for you and your daughter."
Subsequently, the girl recovered completely and her father kept his secret. Only after Reb Chaim Hersch was niftar did he allow the story of his blessing to come out. On that very day, his daughter once again fell into the same illness from which she never recovered. The rabbonim of the city confirmed that it must be due to the father having broken his promise.