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very morning he ate breakfast at the diner across the street from yeshivah.

He would always drink his coffee in a glass swaddled by a metal zarf, and I still remember the way his iconic black-and-white cookie sat in front of him.

At first I was scared to approach him. Then, with time, I found the courage to speak to him.

“Rebbi, can I ask a question?”

He turned to me and with his warm smile said, “Please, sit down, would you like some of my mezonos? I only like the black part, so you can have the white.”

This was the beginning of a three-year relationship with a man who was the embodiment of the Gemara’s gold standard for greatness: “He revealed to us (only) a tefach, and he kept hidden (at least) two tefachim.”

Who would imagine that this man who shared his black-and-white with you had Shas at his fingertips?

Rav Nisson Alpert was a giant in Torah and middos. But he was colossal-like in his humility.

He was born in 1927 in the Polish shtetl of Polanka. His father, Rav Shabsai Alpert, was a cousin of the Chofetz Chaim, a fact of which Rav Nisson was very proud.

From the day I ate the “shirayim” of his cookie, I became a chassid of Rav Nisson Alpert. Every Monday and Thursday, he would say a parshah shiur. Interspersed with his creative insightful chiddushim were priceless vignettes about life in the shtetl and about his rebbi, Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l.

He told us that until he was ten years old, he had never seen or heard of a Jew who was mechallel Shabbos. That was the pristine Jewish environment he grew up in.

Then the war arrived, and the family escaped to the Lower East Side. He attached himself to Rav Moshe and eventually would be recognized as his premier talmid. At Rav Moshe’s levayah, Rav Alpert was chosen to be maspid in the name of “all of the talmidim.”

In 1983, his 19-year-old son Shaya passed away. We crowded into the MTJ beis medrash for the levayah.

We were told that Rav Moshe would not be attending. Shockingly, in the middle of Rav Alpert’s hesped, the back door opened and Rav Moshe entered the packed, standing-room-only beis medrash.

Everyone was silent as the crowd instinctively parted for Rav Moshe.

Rav Alpert remained calm, interrupted his hesped, and simply said, “Zest, Shaya, der Rosh Yeshivah iz gekummen melaveh zein.” There was not a dry eye in the room.

In 1986 Rav Alpert was diagnosed with cancer. As he was undergoing treatments, it became more difficult for him to say shiur. I vividly remember the days before Pesach, as we sat in the shiur room never knowing if Rebbi would arrive.

The last day of zeman seemed the same. We waited and waited, and eventually most of the boys left. Thankfully, for some reason, Hashem put in my mind the will to stay.

At 2 p.m., Rav Alpert arrived straight from the hospital. He delivered a masterful shiur on the Haggadah shel Pesach. I wrote down every word the Rebbi said and eventually published the shiur.

There were only a few of us there, yet we all felt we were witnessing something momentous.

Indeed, we were. It was to be the last shiur Rav Alpert ever gave at yeshivah.

I spoke to him the week before he left This World. In a hoarse and choked-up voice, he thanked me for calling and simply said, “Have bitachon.”

Those were the last words I ever heard from my rebbi.

On the 17th day of Iyar — exactly nine weeks after he eulogized his rebbi, in the same beis medrash — Rav Nisson Alpert’s levayah was held in MTJ.

This Wednesday was Rav Alpert’s 33rd yahrtzeit. I miss him greatly.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 761)