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I'm attending a bar mitzva celebration recently, and the father of the boy gives a short speech. During his speech he mentions in passing that Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1761–1837, modern-day Austria and Poland), when asked how he had achieved his own greatness, replied that had striven to emulate the Rashba (1235–1310, modern-day Spain). I see the same story, with no further detail, at Aish.com.

Was there something specific about the Rashba that he strove to emulate, or just his generally being a tzadik (good person)? If the latter, why did he strive to emulate the Rashba specifically? There had been many great rabbis over the years. And if the former, what was it about the Rashba that he strove to emulate, and why did he choose that trait specifically to strive to emulate?

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    This is (probably) not the source, but the Chazon Ish said about him that "R' Akiva Eiger could have been born in the Rashba'a generation, but Hashem had mercy on us and gave us R' Akiva Eiger in our generation." (Wikipedia)
    – Cauthon
    Mar 3 '16 at 8:23
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    (Unsure if qualifies as an answer hence a comment) In Me’oran Shel Yisrael (vol. 1 220ff.) the author cites a number of passages from RAE extolling Rashba demonstrating his high regard for Rashba, specifically.
    – Oliver
    Sep 1 '19 at 17:51
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    In Sefer Maggid Mesharim parshad Vayeshev the Rashba is called the chosen one of HaShem. וענין ער ואונן נעלם מאוד כמו שכתב הרשב"א בחיר ה'
    – sam
    Aug 13 '20 at 3:13
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    My best guess is that he strove to imitate the Rashba's method of learning. Why the Rashba specifically is probably a matter of R' Akiva Eiger's innate learning style and similarities he may have seen in the Rashba.
    – N.T.
    Aug 13 '20 at 6:52
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    The Rashba combined the mehalchim of the baalei tosfos and the Ramban. Rb Akiva Eiger sought to combine the mehalchim of the baalei halachah and the baalei ha'peshat.
    – The GRAPKE
    Feb 17 '21 at 23:29

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