Rav Zvi Hirsch of Rimanov did not come from an illustrious family nor did he study at the feet of the great rabbanim. He was known for his simple background and the fact that, until a relatively late age, he had not truly learned Torah in depth. Nevertheless, his piety and earnestness earned him a great and honorable name in the annals of Chassidism.
Rav Zvi Hirsch was born in a small town in Western Galicia to simple parents, Yehuda Leib Katz and his wife Shprintza. They were ordinary Jews who attempted to raise their little son to be a good Jew. To this end they sent him to a cheder, never dreaming that someday he would grow up to be one of the pious leaders of Israel.
When he was not yet 10 years of age, tragedy struck and he lost both his parents. Alone in the world, he was fortunate to have a cousin, Reb David of Tarnow, who took him in. Having very little money to feed his own family, Red David found a simple but honest tailor who agreed to take in the little boy as an apprentice.
The tailor was good man who took the young child to shul every morning and evening, made sure he washed his hands before meals, observed the Shabbos and said brochos carefully. The observance of the mitzvot made a great impression on the young boy and he became more proficient in the service of Hashem than in the art of tailoring.
He would daven with great feeling and piety and upon the arrival of Shabbos, the only day he was free from the long and tiring work that was his lot six days a week. He did not go out with the other children to run and play. Instead, he would say tehillim and review the weekly parsha, spending the day in holiness and sanctity.
The tailor grew very fond of the little apprentice and trusted him completely. He would let him deliver the finished clothing to his customers, and with the few coins he received in the way of tips, Zvi Hirsch would buy candies which he would save for a very special purpose.
At night, when the exhausted tailor and the other workers would lie down to sleep, little Zvi Hirsch would lie down too, but not to sleep. When he was sure that everyone else was fast asleep, he would get up very quietly and light his candle. Behind the great stove, away from everyone’s gaze, he would sit and say tikkun chatzos and the day’s order of tehillim.
Only his lips would move and no sound came forth from them. When he was finished he would blow out the flame and return to bed. Thus did he spend the days of his youth, a servant of the tailor during the day and a servant of the Almighty at night.
As he grew older, though, the life that he led was not enough for him. He realized that he was ignorant of Torah, and he began searching for some way in which he could learn and, more important, for some path in life to satisfy his hungry soul.
As Rav Zvi Hirsch used to say when he was already an adult, “I was never a great success as a tailor. I did, however, learn two very important things from my teacher. When he used to give me a garment that was old and torn, he would say, ‘Be careful to sew up the tear so that it is as good as the original.’ On the other hand, when he would give me a new material he would say, ‘Be careful not to ruin the good material that I have given you.’