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The experience was needed for a good reason. It's interesting that because of this fight, he was told he would get the name Yisrael. Some explanations include:

  • The experience taught Yaakov that he was strong enough. You don't know your own strength until you're put to the test.
  • You don't activate your full potential unless you're put to the test. (I don't remember if this is the Rambam or Ramban; can someone help me here please?)
  • When he faces Esav the next day, he has more self-confidence because of what he went through. This may have influenced Esav's decision not to fight him.
  • Sometimes a prophecy involves a physical action to represent it. This wrestling was a symbol that the Jews would struggle with their enemies in the future, but succeed. (This is the Sforno's answer.)
  • Until now, Yaakov's reaction to a problem was always to run away. He ran away from Esav, and later ran away from Lavan. This time the angel grabbed him, hurt his leg (so he couldn't run), and forced him to stand and fight. Which he did. (I heard this from Rabbi Benjamin Blech.)
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A real b'kitzur of what Shalom said is "Masseh Avos Siman L'banim" – SimchasTorah Apr 15 '10 at 23:51
Shalom, please, angels are not physical beings but emanations. How could an incorporeal emanation fight physically with a corporeal human being? Jacob had a dream, which turned into a vision in the lucid phase of his dream. That's how HaShem communicates His will to a prophet. Please, read Numbers 12:6. – Ben Masada Dec 17 '10 at 17:27
Ben Masada, while you may be right, A. There are people who believe there are angels and that they interact with man. See Breishit 19 where angels interact with people. B. the verse actually says "ish" (man) so it's more likely Yakov did fight, but with a man, rather than it being an angel. – Mark Dec 11 '11 at 8:50
The Sforno's answer that you cited is very similar to the Ramban's. I did not see your second bullet point in either the rambam or the ramban. – Baby Seal Dec 26 '13 at 19:31

I wrote about this here in my blog. Here are two answers from the blog:

The second question has two different answers. The first goes as follows (Rav Abihasira). The word Yaaqob is: Yod Ayin Kof and Bet, while the word Yaabeq (wrestle) which is used in the Pasuk is: Yod Alef Kof Bet. What is the difference between the two? The Ayin and the Alef. Each letter represents something. Yod- Yihud (oneness), Ayin- Anawa (humility), Kof- Kedusha (holiness), and Bet- Beracha (blessing). A few chapters ago we learn that Yaaqob married two sisters, Rahel and Leah. The word Ahayot- sisters is what this Pasuk is trying to tell us; Yaaqob married two sisters, and that is why he went after him! The Satan thought that if he married two sisters he will have power. Why? Because the only thing that get rid of the Satan is Anawa- humility, and once Yaaqob married two sisters, he removed the humility from his name leaving space for the Satan to attack him.

The second answer teaches us a very important Yesod-foundation of Judaism. Rav Elchonon Wasserman tells us something brilliant. Why did the Satan wait for Yaaqob? Why didn’t he fight Abraham or Yitzhaq? The answer is, because the only thing that separates us from the other nations is the Torah! What did Yaaqob represent? Torah, that is why the Satan chased him. It isn’t that Abraham-Hesed and Yitzhaq-Tefila/Aboda aren’t important, it is that the Torah separates us from the nation and promises us the continuity of our nation. THE LESSON: set times to learn Torah because it is the only thing that will keep our nation lasting.

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According to Targum [pseudo] Jonathan, (Gen. 32:25) the angel was calling in Jacob's neder to tithe all of G-d's gifts to him, (Gen 28:22).

Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter whom he had not tithed. Jacob immediately set aside 4 firstborns for his 4 wives, and counted his 8 remaining children, (Perush Jonathan includes Binyamin, with whom Rachel was pregnant), ending on Levi, who was his tithe to G-d.

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