Why did Hashem allow the angel to even fight with Yaakov in the first place?
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.)
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.
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.
Radak (Gen. 32:25) explains that the man whom Ya'akov struggled with was an angel. He explains that God sent the angel in order to embolden Ya'akov in his struggle against Esav. Just as he was victorious in his first battle, he was assured of future victory.
ויאבק איש עמו... איש מלאך, וכן והנה איש עומד לנגדו (יהושע ה')...ושלח האל זה המלאך ליעקב לחזק לבו שלא ירא מעשו, כי לא יכול לו, לפיכך נאבק עמו ולא יכול להפילו, כן עשו לא יוכל לו
And a man struggled with him...the 'man' was an angel, and similarly "And behold a man was standing before him" (Joshua 5)...God sent this angel to Jacob, to strengthen his heart, that he not fear Esau; that he would not be able to overcome him. Therefore he struggled with him and was unable to topple him. So too Esau would be unable to overcome him.
Rabbenu Avraham ibn Da'ud writes similarly in Haemunah HaRama (II:4):
וכבר יראו לאנשים שהם מנוצחים מהם כדי להאמין אותם, וחזק את לבם כמו שבא בספור יעקב: ויאבק איש עמו
And they [angels] show people that they are victorious over them, in order to reassure them, and embolden them, as occurred in the story of Jacob: and the man struggled with him...
Shadal writes very similarly in his commentary there:
המאורע הזה היה ליעקב מאת ה׳ לחזק את לבו, להודיעו כי הוא בעזרו
This event happened to Ya'akov through God to embolden him, to make him aware that God was helping him.
R. DZ Hoffman also writes similarly in his commentary there:
מלאך שנשלח על ידי אלהים. היה צריך להראות לו ליעקב שהאדם המתהלך עם האלהים אף מסוגל לנצח מלאך או לפחות לא להיות מנוצח על ידיו.
An angel sent by God: Its purpose was to show Ya'acov that a man who follows God is suited to even be victorious over angels, or at least to not be defeated by them.
Hizkuni (ibid) provides a different very interesting explanation: that the angel was meant to prevent his escape from Esau, so that he confront Esau and be victorious; thus observing God's salvation.
חזקוני פרשת וישלח ויאבק איש עמו: מלאך בדמות איש לעכבו שלא יוכל לברוח ויראה הוא הבטחות הקדוש ברוך הוא שלא יזיקהו עשו.
And a man struggled with him: an angel in the form of a man [sent] in order to impede him so that he would not be able to flee, [so that] he would see God's guarantee that Esau would not harm him.
This explanation is stated by Rabbenu Hayyim Paltiel (ibid) as well.