By the time of this meeting, Rav Alpert's health was so tenuous that it pained people just to look at him. A mere shadow of his former, robust self, he was barely able to speak without succumbing to violent coughing fits. Amazingly, however, whenever he would deliver a shiur or speak words of Torah, he was spared the bone-jarring, uncontrollable coughing spasms.
Notwithstanding his physical condition, his mind and his wit were as sharp as ever. A hush fell over the audience as he opened the meeting. His voice was very low, almost inaudible, and every word was evidently labored. "When I was younger," he began. "I used to dabble quite a bit in shidduchim..."
As usual, Rav Alpert's words managed to evoke a smile from all those assembled and to shift the rather somber mood. "Although I never really accomplished very much in that realm," he continued, "there is one shidduch of which I am extremely proud." By this point Rav Alpert had totally altered the focus of the evening, and completely captivated his audience. He was well aware of this, but still was not tempted to use the podium to utter witticisms by which he knew he would be remembered, for he was certain this was to be one of his last talks. He had personally gathered everyone together that evening, in the home of an initially reluctant host, in the hope that they would part with their hard-earned money for a vital cause and he could not be diverted from his objective.
After pausing to allow his words to have greater impact, he concluded: "And that shidduch is our host and the purpose for which we have convened here tonight."
The eyes of all present swam with tears. "Rebbe," the host declared, "I promise to provide my house next year, and the year after that — as long as you wish — for this cause, if you will only promise to be here with us to open our meetings."
Rav Alpert wished he could have made that promise. No one wished to live more than he. The next few nights, in the bitter cold, counter to the wishes and insistence of all those who cared about him, Rav Alpert devoted his attention to a new cause. Together with his friend, Reb Dov Wallowitz, and Rabbi Meir Shuster of Jerusalem, he trudged through the snow to collect money for the fight against assimilation. On one of those nights, when it was snowing particularly hard, Reb Dov urged Rav Alpert to turn back. To Rav Alpert, however, his personal well-being was of far lesser consequence than an issue so essential to Klal Yisrael.
Rav Alper's self-sacrifice was not lost on the people upon whose doors he knocked. Seeing him out in the cold, his irresistible humor punctuated by dreadful coughing, made their hearts melt and they all gave generously.
(Excerpted from the section about R' Nison Alpert)
It is said that a man's true character is revealed in three areas: his finances, his flask, and his fury. When it comes to money matters, when he is "in his cups," and when he loses his temper, a man's rein on his natural impulses snaps and the opaque shield behind which he conceals his inner-self becomes transparent.
There is, however, one more state wherein man is stripped of his defenses: his infirmity. Can a fevered brain control the words that escape slack lips? Can debilitated flesh be made to respond to the commands of the soul? The answer, obviously, is yes — when the soul has so saintly a master as Reb Moshe Feinstein.
(Excerpted from the section about R' Moshe Feinstein.)
There is no question that the subjects of Hanoch Teller’s latest compendium, Sunset, are definitely deserving of a book; and there is just as little question that Teller has done justice to his noble task. The ten rabbinic giants whose stories are told in Sunset had such a profound influence on the Torah world that their passing mandates a tribute and fortunate are we that Hanoch Teller has stepped up to the plate.
Sunest is partially biographies and partially anecdotal material about the ten towering rabbinic scholars that passed away in the last decade. Of special interest is the biography of Reb Yechezkel Abramsky who, despite his stature in the yeshivah world, was all but unknown in America. Reb Nachum Pertcowitz, the renowned maggid shiur of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Jerusalem, is a name known to every yeshivah student, but other than the fact that he delivered the most famous and well-attended shiur in the world, his personality has remained a mystery. The fascinating story of Reb Leib Gurwicz, the rosh yeshivah of the Gateshead yeshiva, and how he became the son-in-law of Rabbi Elya Lopian is a chapter of Jewish history that I suspect most people are unaware of. The same can be said about the remarkable Chassidic court of the Bostoner Rebbe of Brooklyn, Rabbi Moshe Horowitz.
But clearly the jewel in the crown of this treasure trove is the biography of Rabbi Nison Alpert, the primary disciple of Reb Moshe Feinstein (who is also a subject in Sunset). It is impossible to read this account without being moved to tears and without being moved to being a better person. Teller’s obvious familiarity with the subject elevated this biography from paper to heart and soul.
Sunset is a book that belongs in every Jewish home as much as it is a book that belongs in the consciousness of every man and woman who aspire to greatness.
Reviewed in Y.I. Viewpoint
Words of Praise
|“A great service has been done to the memory of Reb Nison Alpert זכרונו לברכה – and to all of us – by Hanoch Teller’s beautiful tribute. That rare blend of vast scholarship and true humility that Reb Nison was is an inspiration that should forever remain. It is our only true solace to know that such towering, yet unassuming Gedolei Torah emerged in the American yeshiva world.”|
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow
|“There is much to learn from the Rebbe and from the Talmid – as well as from the interaction between the two. I am sure that thousands will be inspired by another masterpiece from the pen of Hanoch Teller.”|
Rabbi Dovid Cohen
|“Hanoch Teller has given the Jewish public a vivid and convincing perception of recent Gedolei Yisrael. In addition, his portrayal of Reb Nison Alpert zt”l – a disciple of Reb Moshe Feinstein, zt”l – is a glowing and classic tribute to a remarkable Torah personality.”|
Rabbi Yehuda Parnes