Reb Chayim Yehoshua and the “Snatchers” (Part 2)

The Chassid Reb Chayim Yehoshua spent four months in the vicinity of Kazan. At home, his business affairs often took him to the small villages, and so he was quite familiar with the ways of village folk.

He would travel from one small village to another, ransoming the children. Some of them fled on their own after they were released. As for the others, he had to care for them and find them a place of refuge.
Reb Chayim Yehoshua pursued his work in a clever fashion. Upon first arriving in a village, he would purchase some products of that village: wool, linen, and the like. This gave the impression that his visit was for business purposes. Only incidentally would he inquire about the young boys of the vicinity.

One day, a Jew who spoke Yiddish with a Volhynian accent arrived at the village where he was staying. He too had come to purchase the local products of wool and linen, and he became friendly with Reb Chayim Yehoshua. Reb Chayim Yehoshua innocently took him at face value, and they remained together for a month. But the newcomer spied on Reb Chayim Yehoshua, eventually discovering everything he was doing in ransoming the Cantonists children.

Reb Chayim Yehoshua had eight boys for whom he had not yet found homes. Some of them were living with him in Kazan, while others had gone to the townsfolk to beg for food. His “friend”, the wool-and-linen merchant assisted him in ransoming the Cantonists and in making further arrangements for them. With his help he managed to place six of the children in Kazan. Reb Chayim Yehoshua decided to take the remaining two home with him when he left.

On the very day that Reb Chayim Yehoshua was planning to depart, three armed soldiers suddenly appeared, in the company of the merchant from Volhynian. They arrested the Chassid Reb Chayim Yehoshua and bound him in chains. As soon as the children caught sight of the soldiers, they ran for their lives, and alarmed the children who had been placed in the city. All of them disappeared and were never heard from again. During the next six months, Reb Chayim Yehoshua was moved from one jail to another, bound in chains, until he was finally brought to Vitebsk.

There, Reb Chayim Yehoshua was imprisoned under very harsh conditions. At first the governor wanted him tried for treason by a military court, and he boasted that he would execute Reb Chayim Yehoshua by hanging. It took a great deal of persuasion to influence him to hold the trial in civil court.

Reb Chayim Yehoshua remained in the Vitebsk prison for three months before the governor finally released him. It was through the intercession of Reb Gavriel Nossai Chein** who had business connections with the ministers that he was set free.

  The Tzemach Tzedek lent him a sum of money with which to purchase goods and start a business. He advised him to settle in the city of Gluchov (Czernigov, Ukraine today) and gave him his blessing. Reb Chayim Yehoshua lived in Gluchov for twenty-five years and he prospered financially. From time to time, he would travel to Lubavitch to the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek, and after the Tzemach Tzedek passed away, to his son the Rebbe Maharash. Reb Dov Zev now continues telling the story he heard from Reb Chaim Yehoshua on his deathbed:

After my release, I again visited the Rebbe, who designated the city of Gluchov as my new home. He blessed me with long life, and added the promise, “You will be with me in my domain” (in the World to Come). Today or tomorrow, I will return my soul to my Maker. My final request of you is that after my casket is covered with earth, a minyan of men should make the following declaration:

“Holy Rebbe, son-in-law of the (Mitteler) Rebbe, and grandson of the (Alter) Rebbe: your servant Chayim Yehoshua ben Esther has died. Before his death, he appointed us his agents to do a mitzvah and inform you that your servant Chayim Yehoshua ben Esther has died, and to remind you of the promise you made to your servant Chayim Yehoshua ben Esther in reward for his labors in the mitzvah of pidyon sh’vuyim (redeeming captives) – the promise that, “You will be with me in my domain.” (His place in Gan Eden would be close to that of the Rebbe.) They all promised Reb Chayim Yehoshua that they would do as he asked. The next morning, after he davened (prayed) Shacharit (Morning prayers) and put on Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin, he delivered up his soul with a clear mind while reciting Shema Yisrael. That same day, Reb Chayim Yehoshua was laid to rest.  

The Chassid Reb Dov Zev continued relating the story: “When the casket was covered with earth, ten men stood there and recited the message quoted above. When I later came to the Rebbe Maharash, son of the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek in Lubavitch and repeated to him Reb Chayim Yehoshua’s story and his final request, the Rebbe said:

  “So may it be done on High! Divine service in actual deed elevates one to the highest levels. Reb Chayim Yehoshua was a clever Chassid and he provided himself with a wonderful place for his eternal home. My father is a man of his word, and he will surely keep his promise.”

  *In HaTamim (a Chassidic publication published in Warsaw in the years 1935-1937) the subtitle reads, “From stories told by Reb Avraham Abba Persan.”

It seems, however, that the article was actually written by the Previous Rebbe himself. Apparently, the Previous Rebbe had heard the stories from Reb Avraham Abba, and recorded them in his diary.

** For more on the fascinating story of Reb Gavriel Nossai Chein, see the book Links in the Chassidic Legacy. It can be found on the website:

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